Consistent and reliable access to food is a challenge that millions of Americans face at some point throughout the year. In fact, in 2018, nearly 14.3 million households were food insecure.1 Food insecurity is when a household has difficulty providing enough food for the entire family due to factors such as financial hardship and lack of access to resources such as social service and government programs.
The coronavirus outbreak is creating unique challenges for Hispanic and Latino individuals that live within the tight-knit border communities (often referred to as colonias) of the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Across MHP Salud’s initiatives, Community Health Workers (CHWs) are stepping up to ensure that individuals are informed and receive the help they need during these difficult times.
Our Community Health Worker (CHW)-led program, Juntos Podemos (Together We Can), is helping residents in the Rio Grande Valley change their lives by providing education and classes that promote healthy lifestyles. The program works specifically with Hispanic families who are enrolled in or eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP). It lasts 4-weeks and runs multiple times throughout the year to help as many families as possible.
Community Health Workers, trust-worthy liaisons between medical professionals and their community, are a great resource for patients combating the negative consequences associated with skipping prescription drugs. CHWs can educate those who can’t afford their prescription drugs on how to lead healthier lifestyles and help stress the importance of managing chronic diseases.
The lack of access to information and services in Spanish can prevent many Latinos from seeking care. Many CHW-led interventions recruit bi-lingual members of the community, allowing for correct interpretation of information, effective education and a way to address stigma. More importantly, it allows individuals who face language barriers the path to express their mental health concerns without fear of misinterpretation.
In 2015, chronic diseases (those that are not infectious but rather have slow progression and long duration) accounted for over two-thirds of all deaths in the Pacific Islands. Tragically, 70-75% of deaths in the Pacific Islands are considered premature, occurring before age 60. There is clearly a demonstrated need for high quality, cost-effective healthcare services.
Of all the areas that MHP Salud operates in, our agency recognized that there was the greatest need for insurance enrollment assistance in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Not only are there many uninsured individuals in the area, but environmental challenges unique to the region create additional challenges for people navigating the often complex insurance process to connect to care.
The first Community Health Workers in Michigan were trained in the 1960s to provide services to their communities. Around this time, the federal government began providing funding for community-based programs that used CHWs to reach underserved communities. Community Health Workers in Michigan and across the country began having an impact on the national level when in 1978, CHWs formed the New Professionals Special Primary Interest Group in the American Public Health Association (APHA).
This lack of access could be a result of many factors. For some communities, healthy food isn’t available. There may not be a grocery store within 10 or 20 miles and food is often purchased from fast food restaurants or convenience stores where many items are highly processed and have lower nutritional value than fresh produce. In some cases, healthy food may be technically available but not accessible.
Many of MHP Salud’s direct service programs operate inside the Rio Grande Valley’s colonias, which are defined by The Texas Office of the Secretary of State as residential areas along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack basic living necessities like potable water, septic or sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, or safe and sanitary housing.