Community Health Workers Helping the City Fight COVID-19

Community health workers are needed more than ever in the community. They are working on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. Also known as promotoras, they have been critical in helping the city with contract tracing, staffing testing sites, and helping the city operate its 311 information number.

Their expertise are making more organizations, including the city, look to Northwest Vista College’s Community Health Worker program as a main source of employees.

Dr. Fernando Martinez, Ph.D, NVC’s Community Health Worker program coordinator, said NVC has the only certified online program in most of South Texas that is still operational. Most other face-to-face programs couldn’t quickly switch to online/remote learning. NVC’s CHW program prepares students to navigate human and social service programs at the local, state and federal levels. Graduates can earn a Level 1 certificate or go further to get an associate degree in the field.

He said in the last few months, potential students seeking interest in the program has doubled. NVC has about 400 graduates of its CHW program and about 30 who are working with the city of San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s Healthy Neighborhoods program. This program sends community health workers to targeted neighborhoods to help residents create action plans to help prevent childhood obesity.

“In the neighborhoods where you and I live, we have access to education and resources, but in some other neighborhoods, you will find that to a lesser degree so it may be hard to make those important decisions and that’s why having a relationship with a CHW is critical,” said Dr. Martinez. “A community health worker is not the Bexar County Judge or San Antonio mayor, but someone you know.”

Dr. Martinez said in the coming weeks, NVC is partnering with Alamo Colleges District Workforce to introduce an accelerated Community Health Worker Level 1 certificate. The program will be conducted online and give students an opportunity to do no a no-contact internship.

Vicente Escobedo, who received his CHW certificate from NVC in 2011 and now works for the city’s Health Department, said he encourages many of his friends to enter the field and go to NVC. He said since receiving his certificate almost a decade ago, he has continuously held jobs with different entities.

Vicente said his friends would always tell him his job seemed so fun because he was teaching people how to eat healthy and conducing group exercises. He said what’s unique about CHW is that they are able to build trust and relationships with their clients because CHWs are from the same community.

“We can get the job done because we are versatile and trained on how to work in the community,” Escobedo said. “We can bridge those gaps.”

Since COVID-19 his duties have changes to calling COVID-positive patients to help the city with contact tracing and giving them information to resources. He said one common question he gets is when to enter the 14-day quarantine. He advises people to quarantine themselves once they get positive test results.

Guadalupe Campos and Vicente were also a part of the city’s Healthy Neighborhood program.

But since COVID-19, Guadalupe has also had to pivot and now she helps those older in the community find resources. She said many don’t know how to use a computer so she will spend her time sending emails to get COVID-19 test results back for her clients. She’s also been advising them where to find face masks and where to get tested in their area.



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