For hundreds of churchgoers, health care comes in the form of a parish health promoter. Providence Portland Medical Center's program reached a significant milestone this spring, with nearly 100 volunteers serving the community's low-income and often Spanish-speaking residents.
The health promoters are volunteers who serve in five north and southeast Multnomah County parishes, including St. Anne's, St. Peter's, Ascension, Holy Cross and Holy Redeemer.
They staff health fairs at parishes, offering classes on cancer, children's health, nutrition, domestic violence and more. They also help parishionersnavigate through other needed services, such as clinics, helping people with transportation to and translations for medical appointments and social services. They also visit with homebound elderly and people with chronic illnesses.
The program is co-sponsoredbyProvidence Portland Medical Center and El Programa Hispano of Catholic Charities. The goal is to reach Spanish-speaking residents who are unaware of available health care resources and to educate them about disease prevention and making proper use of the health care system.
Many immigrants do not understand how the U.S. health care system works, and the health promoters are able to help people navigate the often-confusing system.
Providence and Catholic Charities came together to sponsor the program in 2000 in response to the growth of the Latino patient population and in recognition that Latino immigrants had some of the lowest rates of insurance coverage.
"Parish health promoters have become the eyes and ears of Providence in the Latino community," said Catherine Potter, program director. "Not only are the health promoters educating their communities about health topics and helping people access much-needed services, they are also bringing issues back to the health system so that we can improve our services for all groups of patients."
Laura Gomez-Navarro is one of the original health promoters and serves at St. Peter's Parish in Southeast Portland.
"I believe the Hispanic Community really benefits from the health promoter program," said Gomez-Navarro. "Thanks to this program, the volunteers have been able to help people in many ways, and we will continue with our promise to assist the people in need."
Each volunteer completes an extensive 15-week, 60-hourtrainingcourse. Dozens of health care professionals from the community teach the classes, which are presented in Spanish. Following graduation, the volunteers meet monthly for continuing education and support from each other. The Parish Health Promoter Program plans to continue training new groups of volunteers every two years.
A similar health promoter program is being developed in west Portland and Washington County. Providence St. Vincent Medical Center will help sponsor that effort.