“Kris-tty! Kris-tty! Kris-tty!”
Kristty Polanco, 27, punched her fist in the air to the chanting of her classmates as she received a certificate, bouquet of flowers and hugs from her training leaders.
After weeks of instruction and discussion, Polanco and 27 others graduated from a 100+ hour community health worker course on Friday, July 15. The original curriculum was developed by the Community Capacitation Center of the Multnomah County Health Department.
The Community Capacitation Center partnered with The Latino Network, El Programa Hispano Católico, Nuestra Comunidad Sana and Northwest Family Services to develop the Latino-centric training course that was funded by Family Care. The training was in Spanish and the curriculum developed from within the Latino culture.
The aim is to tap the strengths of Latino culture and community to make the health and healthcare system more informed and effective.
“I have never met a group of professionals that I respect more than community health workers,” said Dr. Noelle Wiggins, director of the CCC. Wiggins has been training Community Health Workers for about 30 years now. “I have also never found a strategy that is more effective for addressing health inequities than the Community Health Worker model.”
The roles that community health workers play are multiple and varied, said Wiggins.
“It’s everything from working one-on-one to connect an individual to existing health services to bringing whole communities together and organizing them to identify and address the underlying causes of health inequities.”
“It connects the actual community with the system,” said Ben Escalante, a health educator for the CCC who co-facilitates many of the community health worker training sessions.
“I think it’s really important to have culturally specific trainings because when people are able to spend that much time with other people from their own culture… they have a shared experience that means that they just don’t have to explain as much to each other,” said Wiggins, “They are able to openly discuss oppression and its effects on health, as well as cultural sources of resilience.”
A passion for her community
Kristty Polanco wants to serve her Latino community. She and her family immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when she was seven, and Polanco found herself taking on a great deal of responsibility for the family. She was her parent’s translator, interpreter and connector to resources.
“I felt like I needed to step up and take care of my parents. So I really try to be their advocate, and try to be their voice and kind of help them get care,” said Polanco.
She was a sophomore at Western Oregon University when her father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at a health fair. His blood sugar levels were over 300, so high that he was immediately referred to the emergency room.
“When my dad was diagnosed it just became more evident that I needed to be more of that role,” Polanco said. His experience motivated her to major in Community Health.
“I had a goal: I don’t want other families to have to go through what I’m going through.”
Polanco’s passion for helping underserved communities access healthcare led her to Kaiser Permanente where she works as a lead care navigator.
“My goal is to continue advocating for our communities. I have a passion for the Latino community because I’m from that community, but I also have a goal of advocating for other vulnerable and underserved communities through this role,” said Polanco.
Power and Health
Over the six-week course, the health workers studied a wide variety of topics, from “Introduction to Public Health,” to “Mental Health Promotion” and “Access to Care.” All classes utilized popular education methodology, which means that facilitators started with what participants already knew and built on it using participatory techniques.They emphasized using knowledge gained to solve problems and increase health equity.
Wiggins described the definition of health promotion set forth by the World Health Organization – “Health promotion is the process of helping people gain more control over their lives and their health. And control is really the same as power,” said Wiggins. That’s why the title “Poder y Salud 2016” or “Power and Health 2016” was chosen by the group as the name for their cohort.
After everyone had received their certificate, the graduates gathered for a group photo. Clutching their certificates and flowers, Polcano and the others counted down: “Uno… dos… tres...Poder y Salud 2016!”