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Promotoras lauded for promoting well-being
Eliseo Zamora credits promotoras for saving his wife's life. The resident of San Luis, Ariz., takes a walk every evening. Sometimes his wife goes with him.
One day he went to invite her and found her resting in the bedroom. He didn't want to wake her up. But as he walked away, he decided to invite her anyway.
He found her drenched in sweat and recognized it as a sign of a dangerous diabetic hypoglycemia. He had learned about it in health class led by promotoras from Campesinos Sin Fronteras and knew what to do.
“I knew not to waste any time,” he recalled in Spanish.
He checked her blood sugar and found it very low. He brought her juice, but by then she was unresponsive. He immediately called for an ambulance.
“It was the first time in 45 years of marriage that I had the opportunity to do something important for her,” he said, with his voice breaking. “Thanks to Campesinos Sin Fronteras for the support.”
Recognizing their crucial role in a community, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva and Campesinos Sin Fronteras hosted a community breakfast in San Luis, Ariz., on Friday to honor local promotoras.
Promotoras, which means “female promoters” in Spanish, promote health and well-being among family, friends and neighbors. Although some men serve as “promotores,” most are women, probably because traditionally they are the caretakers.
“Promotoras are underappreciated but doing a job that needs to be done,” Grijalva said.
He noted that promotoras will have an “essential” role in outreach and reducing health-care disparities under President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Under the health plan, Grijalva said, Arizona will immediately receive $6 million to address a shortage of health-care professional in under-served areas and $2.5 million to school-based centers for health-care delivery.
“This is where the concept of promotoras comes into play,” Grijalva said. “They are trained and certified to go into the community, talk to their friends, their neighbors, bring them into the health-care delivery system. Who better than someone from the community?”
By helping communities navigate through the health-care system, promotoras can help lessen the burden on health-care facilities due to uncompensated care, such as “I have nowhere else to go” visits to the ER, Grijalva said.
And it's not just about undocumented immigrants. “On the contrary, the vast, vast majority are Americans, permanent residents, citizens that have no insurance,” he said.
Emma Torres, CEO of Campesinos Sin Fronteras, called the promotora program “a concept that makes sense: people helping their own.”
She said Campesinos pioneered the promotora model in Arizona and now with Obama's health-care plan, the phone has been ringing off the hook.
“It's become so popular. Everyone wants to know what promotoras are,” Torres said.
Promotoras represent the community “culturally, linguistically, economically and educationally,” she explained. They educate the community on a wide variety of issues, from chronic disease prevention to behavioral health.
“You can't treat one area without treating all these other areas,” she noted.
She recognized the dedication of these workers, pointing out that they come from all walks of life, including cooks, actresses and educators.
And they're not “9-5,” she added.
They do their work whenever the opportunity arises. “When farmworkers are waiting five, six hours and not getting paid, they go to them and teach them,” Torres said.
On Friday, they had been working since 3 a.m., conducting health screenings in the park for farmworkers.
“They do it because they like their work. This is the spirit of serving that characterizes a promotora,” Torres said.
Dr. Yanira Cruz, founder and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, spoke by conference call from Washington, D.C., about the role of promotoras in reducing health-care disparities. Pointing to the “irreplaceable ties” they have with the community, she described them as “navigators, bridges between patients and health care, noting that some people become lost in the system due to confusion or lack of information.
Although in the past, most of these health educators started as volunteers and worked their way to a paid position, certification classes are now available at Arizona Western College. Torres and Floribella Redondo, Campesinos programs director, teach the classes.
Rosario “Chayito” Sanchez, a resident of San Luis, Ariz., has been a Campesinos promotora for 10 years, starting as a volunteer in the HIV prevention program and now working as a paid promotora in the chronic disease control and prevention program.
“We would go out in the fields to talk to farmworkers about HIV ... We broke down barriers because our culture doesn't talk about these things,” she recalled.
“Being a promotora means making a commitment to serve, I always say the promotora is the one who helps, serves, supports, refers and gives hope. We believe in what we do.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.