At the start of July, Mano a Mano Family Center of Salem will be beginning a three-phase project to increase bilingual community health workers housed at community-based organizations in the Mid-Willamette Valley.
“Our goal is connecting the community to healthcare, so they know how to access it before it becomes a crisis,” said Levi Herrera-Lopez, Executive Director of Mano a Mano Family Center.
Mano a Mano will partner with several Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) led community-based organizations to implement a community health worker model in hopes of making healthcare more accessible.
“When the next community crisis hits, we want to be ready” with a network of trained bilingual health workers that are coordinated to respond to the community's needs, Herrera-Lopez said.
Mano a Mano’s main partner will be Capaces Leadership Institute in Woodburn. The final list of partner organizations will be developed during phase one, beginning in July. The first phase also will consist of hiring a project coordinator and developing a Spanish curriculum to train the new community health workers.
Mano a Mano expects to begin training 10-12 community health workers by the summer of 2023.
There is a large population of Latinx individuals in the local community for whom Spanish is their primary language, and Herrera-Lopez said even those who speak some English often prefer to communicate in Spanish.
For these individuals, finding the care they need can be difficult in a healthcare system dominated by English-speaking providers.
In rural Marion County, there is a large indigenous Latinx community whose first languages are indigenous languages from Mexico. Developing an indigenous language-based community health worker curriculum is one of the project’s goals for the future, said Herrera-Lopez.
He said the project was initiated in response to a need in the BIPOC community for health education and assistance in navigating healthcare systems such as health insurance, which became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizations such as Mano a Mano and Capaces worked through the pandemic helping the BIPOC community deal with health issues and related challenges such as increased stress.
“The people we’re serving never stopped working and never stopped putting themselves at risk,” Herrera-Lopez said.
The community health worker model works to mitigate these risks by ensuring access to consistent support in times of need. “It’s not just a referral or a phone number,” said Herrera-Lopez.
The community health workers will have knowledge of what resources are available, then will connect those in need with the care they are seeking. They will work to help them understand how health systems work, while continuing to support them throughout the process of accessing and receiving care.
This project is being funded, in part, by $250,000 in funds secured by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, in the 2022 federal spending bill. According to a press release from Merkley's office, this year’s funding is aimed at “supporting housing, health care, education, and other needs in Oregon communities” through community-initiated projects.
While the funding is helping to launch Mano a Mano’s project, Herrera-Lopez said their plan is to fundraise to maintain the community health worker network.
Sydney Wyatt covers healthcare inequities in the Mid-Willamette Valley. You can reach her at SWyatt@gannett.com, by phone (503) 399-6613, or on Twitter @sydney_elise44 The Statesman Journal’s coverage of healthcare inequities is funded in part by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which seeks to strengthen the cultural, social, educational, and spiritual base of the Pacific Northwest through capacity-building investments in the nonprofit sector.
This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Mano a Mano increasing bilingual community health workers