By August 2020, the state announced the selection of seven vendors that would hire and manage more than 250 community health workers to be deployed to 50 counties. In 2018, a group of stakeholders who held summits and listening sessions after looking at similar initiatives in other southeastern states issued a report with recommendations for how to get such a project off the ground. Having an impact
“Community health workers are integral to the successful deployment of health care in the community,” Martinez-Bianchi told a joint meeting of two subcommittees of the House Committee on Education and Labor in late September. Throughout the pandemic, many Latino organizations deployed teams of these workers to neighborhoods and events where the community health workers understood the culture of those they were trying to help, while also speaking their language.
Employing community health workers throughout North Carolina has been a long-held goal but was jump-started by the pandemic. The state Department of Health and Human Services started exploring the possibility of a community health worker initiative in October 2014. Known as “promotores de salud” in Spanish, and widely deployed throughout Latin America, community health workers are the trained people who go into neighborhoods and workplaces to deliver crucial public health information. They have helped increase vaccination rates, guided parents and children to critical COVID testing, and provided a long-needed bridge from difficult-to-access health care systems to underserved populations.
Though nearly 10 percent of the North Carolina population identifies as Hispanic, they represented 44 percent of the COVID cases in July 2020. Curamericas initially worked in partnership with the Consulate General of Guatemala in Raleigh to get more than 500 volunteers out to reach 10,000 Latino families by August 2020. Now the organization is working with 19 community-based organizations that already had crucial connections in the 26-county region, as well as paying workers at least $20 per hour, according to the organization’s website. Herrera’s organization began reaching out to Spanish-speaking families across North Carolina in the early days of the pandemic when it was clear that Hispanic residents were being hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19. Many were on the frontlines, working in food processing plants, grocery stores, the construction industry and other jobs deemed essential that often did not provide opportunities for social distancing or working from home.
Andrew Herrera, executive director of Curamericas Global, joined a recent Zoom meeting of the Latinx Advocacy Team and Interdisciplinary Network for COVID-19, or LATIN-19, an organization founded by Martinez-Bianchi and several of her fellow Latina health care workers. Curamericas Global, which has an office in Raleigh, was selected to help launch initiatives in Alamance, Buncombe, Chatham, Craven, Davidson, Davie, Durham, Franklin, Forsyth, Gaston, Granville, Guilford, Harnett, Henderson, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Orange, Pitt, Randolph, Surry, Warren, Wake, Wayne, Wilkes and Vance counties.
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