As the COVID-19 pandemic surged, SEAHEC and partners in Cochise, Graham and Greenlee Counties worked together to improve community capacity to stem the epidemic. The focus of the effort was threefold:
- Provide Spanish translations for health education resources published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC,) The Wold Health Organization (WHO,) and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS.) According to SEAHEC Border/Binational Program Coordinator, Brenda Olivia Sanchez, who leads the effort, many of the best, most reliable resources were not available in Spanish, limiting the ability of local community health workers and public health educators to provide outreach to our most vulnerable communities.
- Make bilingual health education resources available online via seahec.org and social media to share them with community partners.
- Revolutionize community health worker (CHW) training by helping CHWs-promotor/aes de salud transition to virtual modes training and providing community health education on COVID 19. In the past, low computer literacy, lack of access to computers and deficient rural broadband connectivity has hampered the efforts of Arizona’s CHWs to access training and teaching resources and share them with each other and their community.
Harnessing Expertise by Creating Training Opportunities for Future Health Professionals
SEAHEC Public Health and Nursing interns worked with Ms. Sanchez and Linda Cifuentes, SEAHEC’s Community Capacity Building Coordinator to create and translate health education material. The interns “focused on bilingual, culturally competent information on what COVID-19 is, the current statistics and proper preventative measures,” Ms. Sanchez said.
“As COVID-19 has progressed in the state of Arizona, our team has focused their efforts on making these resources available and updated biweekly. Our team has also created a resource guide for COVID-19 testing sites located in Cochise, Graham and Greenlee as well as other additional resources related to social services in these counties,” she said.
SEAHEC has shared the materials we created with our partners including Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc., Graham County Health Department, Greenlee County Health Department, Cochise Health and Social Services, Canyonlands Hospital in Clifton, Safford City-Graham County Library. These materials are also available on our website at: https://www.seahec.org/programs/community-initiatives/covid19_local/
One of our key partners in this effort is Ventanilla de Salud, a program run by the Mexican Consulate in Douglas, and supported throughout southeast Arizona by the University of Arizona Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. The Ventanilla de Salud Facebook page now hosts the information SEAHEC has compiled as well as a webinar series called “Lunes de mente y salud.” Monday of Mind and Health.
The Ventanilla de Salud Facebook page “has become a hub for up-to-date bilingual information that the CDC, WHO, ADHS and other health organizations provide,” said Ms. Sanchez, adding that the “Lunes de mente y salud” webinar features health education lessons on chronic illnesses, health resources, overviews of local organizations and COVID-19 updates.
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Bringing Community Health Worker Training into the 21st Century
SEAHEC has collaborated with the Arizona Community Health Outreach Workers Association (AzCHOW) and the Western Region Public Health Training Center to create an hour long CHW training on COVID-19 and how to safely continue to work in the communities they serve.
“This webinar took place on April 8th and was used to train Winchester Heights promotor/as on COVID-19,” said Ms. Sanchez.
“Due to COVID-19, activities in Winchester Heights and the Winchester promotor/a trainings have shifted to virtual interactions,” said Ms. Cifuentes, who works with the Winchester Heights community, training their CHWs and helping them build the capacity of the newly incorporated Winchester Heights Health Organization, which runs the new community center, which SEAHEC helped the community build with funding from the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona, and other community partners.
Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Cifuentes developed a COVID-19 protocol to help CHWs/promotor/as remain safe from exposure while distributing information packets to the community. They also trained the CHWs on how to conduct telephonic home visits to maintain social interactions with those they serve. So far, promotor/as, as CHWs are called in Winchester Heights have distributed valuable information to 240 homes in the community.
The materials cover a wide range of topics featuring COVID-19 basics, colorectal cancer and local health resources.
“The purpose of the follow-up telephonic home visits are to clarify any questions or concerns about the information in the packets,” said Ms. Cifuentes. She added that the CHWs use the virtual home visits to ask how community members are doing, if there is a need someone is having, and where to go to fulfill that need, for example, emergency food at the food pantry at Winchester Community Center, COVID-19 testing sites through Chiricahua Mobile Clinic, or referrals to local health and other resources. One of the first tiers of public health infrastructure SEAHEC has helped the community build is a health and social services referral system that employs CHWs as a critical link between service providers and the community.
A Replicable, Scalable Model for Promoting Investment and Building Infrastructure in Rural Border Communities
For over a decade, SEAHEC has worked with the Winchester Heights community to help residents overcome seemingly insurmountable systemic barriers to improving economic opportunity and public health. At the core of those barriers is a lack of basic infrastructure reminiscent of developing countries. SEAHEC and Winchester Heights residents have leveraged community partnerships to promote investment in local rural infrastructure and capacity building that has improved water quality, food security and built organizational capacity to tackle even larger barriers to public health, such as acquiring paved, lighted streets and access to emergency health and safety services, which suburban and urban residents take for granted.
The heart of SEAHEC’s scalable, replicable model for rural economic development is community health workers who, with small investments in training and local infrastructure, can substantially improve health and economic outcomes.
Masks to Help Keep the Community Safe and Healthy
Ms. Sanchez and Ms. Cifuentes would also like to say thank you to Casa Alitas and The UA Primary Prevention Mobile Health Unit-Tucson, who contributed 570 cloth face masks.
“These masks were distributed between Winchester Heights and NatureSweet, a local tomato producer that is the largest employer in the community, to help reduce the exposure to COVID-19 at the workplace and home,” Ms. Cifuentes said.