Many public health agencies serve lower-income immigrant communities in Santa Ana, but only Latino Health Access uses the promotor method, which involves training everyday people to promote good health in their own neighborhoods.
Ranging in age from 7 to 76, promotores often go door-to-door, educating community members on issues such as fitness, diabetes and mammograms. LHA also offers wellness classes and leads policy initiatives to build parks and make streets safer.
LHA’s new policy director is Dolores Gonzalez-Hayes, who studied at Harvard University, worked for E-Trade and was a senior advisor to U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Over a few days this week, she talked about what she brings to LHA and where she wants to help take the organization. (LHA Executive Director America Bracho participated in one of the interviews.)
Q: How does your background prepare you to take on the work at LHA?
A: Community development and service have always been a passion of mine. LHA brought the opportunity at the right time to openly give, both of the experience that I’ve received and also the education.
Q: What work did you do in Sanchez’s office that might be applicable to your work here at LHA?
A: I was there through the federal health reform initiative.
Q: Were you happy with how it turned out?
A: A lot was lost in what we ended up with in the legislation. I think there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done regarding that. The disenfranchised continue to have very challenging issues. And I’m going to do my best to contribute as much as I can to move the needs of people who need health insurance forward.
Q: How does LHA’s community organizing model make it unique?
A: LHA isn’t only about community organizing, although community organizing is the channel, the venue, to bring people together. What is more amazing about the organization is the leadership development piece of it. … Most people think the essence of leadership development is one leader at the forefront. Leadership is bringing others along with you.
A: (By Bracho) We do leadership training in our policy program. Our message to the community is they can use their own voice. If you have diabetes, we can help you, but we want you to use your own voice to talk to your doctor. I want you talking in the school, saying ‘I want better food for my kids.’ We are all about helping people use their own voice.
Q: Recently the Orange County Board of Supervisors criticized LHA for using the term promotores instead of promoters. You’re operating in a very conservative climate. What’s your response?
A: Yes, it’s challenging, but the way I see it is we are here to build a relationship. We are looking to build bridges so whether there might be comments that come across as negative, we can leave those things aside and move forward and continue to have dialogue. It’s not a deal breaker. It’s an opportunity to build that relationship, and I think LHA has the professionalism and the open-mindedness and has the desire to continue to help people, so negative comments are not going to be issues of separation or divide. We will do our part to build relationships …
We serve a community, and we respect everyone’s views, but our goal is to do whatever is possible to address the needs of the community we serve. We want to advance the policies that bring benefit to those communities, because in the long run when we provide those services and leadership development, people grow. There is no drain on anyone then. People are in a better economic situation, in better health. If anything, we’re reducing dependency. Our efforts lead to self-sufficiency.
Q: Who are some of the players LHA will build bridges with?
A: (By Bracho) From the neighborhood association to the city council. From the school district to the state Assembly. From the taco sales person to the Irvine Co. You are talking about business, religious and vocational leadership. We are talking about all of us, because wellness is about everything: housing, transportation so people can reach places, streets where people can walk. When you think of wellness that way, the engineer who is designing the street is a key player in the fight against obesity
Q: Can you give some specific examples of policies you’re working toward?
A: (By Bracho) LHA works in the short and long term. … We serve a community with a lot of needs and talents. Many of the needs are in the present. We need to help people address those, but if we only stay in the present, we’ll be suffering for rest of our lives. We need to change root causes of our suffering. To do that, we have to work at the policy level.
So here’s an example: It’s possible today someone will go blind from diabetes because eye surgery costs $5,000 and this person hasn’t had a screening of his eyes ever. So today that person is going blind and today we have to find a doctor that can do laser surgery. We contact doctors that can donate their time, do fundraising and sell tamales and wash cars and find the money to help that person.
But that person should have health insurance. So one of our strong areas of health advocacy is to reform access to health care. Not just get the policy part but get people to use it.
Another example: We have a very strong healthy weight program. We are dealing with an obesity epidemic that is devastating our community. Children at 12 are dealing with diabetes. These kids are going to be blind at an early age. But we don’t have a park, a place where kids can play, safe streets, schools with P.E. In the short term we can have kids come to classes and do exercise with us. In the long term we want a park. We want safe streets, and so we have an important agenda on safety and land use and open space.
Q: Besides classes and door-to-door visits, how do you reach people who might need your help?
A: (By Bracho) Our domestic violence group puts tables in the streets, and they give away tortillas, and as people come in, we tell them that tortillas are part of the culture, violence is not. Then we have private conversations with people and encourage them to come to a support group.
Q: How will Dolores Gonzalez-Hayes make a difference for your organization?
A: (By Bracho) She’s a very mature professional but also a committed individual. At LHA we don’t just recruit the brain, we also recruit the heart. Dolores has a commitment to opportunities and a great deal of experience in policy. She has experience supervising individuals and partnering with people. We need to partner, be humble, do our part. We need to be open to other people’s truths and point of view.