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The Decision to Wear a Cape

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Community health workers(CHWs)/Promotores de salud(Ps) have proven to be the key in the fight against COVID-19 in underserved communities of color. To get a better understanding of the role CHWs/Ps have played during the pandemic, I interviewed Kenneth Artry, a CHW/P from El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center. 

Shortened Transcript

[Kenneth]: That sense of relief they get after they get their vaccine shot, seeing them so happy that they can now navigate their life without worrying about getting the virus, that sense of relief that they feel safe. I think that is what makes me so happy about being a community health worker. 

Kenneth (left) helping with administrative work at an Adelanto pop-up clinic.

[Zuleyma]: That is the voice of Kenneth, a community health worker in the High Desert. I spoke to Kenneth, as part of El Sol’s Three Part Series titled Life Under a Pandemic. In this episode, we discuss the role CHWs play in the vaccination efforts in rural communities.

Kenneth, how did you first get involved with El Sol?

[Kenneth]: One of the ladies I volunteered with at CHC, which is the California Health Collaborative, told me about El Sol. And it was something that I was so used to doing that I was like, “Oh, of course, I would love to get back to working with people, working in communities.” Because, it’s fun, it’s also a way to give back to the community. It [also] builds character I think. That’s why I was interested in working in community health.

[Zuleyma]: I think that’s a great way to see it, but did you have any concerns going into communities as a community health worker during a pandemic?

[Kenneth]: Not necessarily, I always have the mindset that everything happens for a reason. So if you’re helping people and something bad happens to you, in this case, if I get COVID, I mean weighing my options which are me helping 10 people in light of helping none, I would rather help the 10 people than help myself.

[Zuleyma]: I see, that’s very honorable and I’m sure the communities you work in greatly appreciate all you do. I know you mentioned earlier that you mainly work in Adelanto. Has COVID-19 affected the economy of the area?

[Kenneth]: I would say there’s a lack of job placement in North Adelanto period, like that’s a big thing in North Adelanto, but I will say it did cause a lot of people to lose their jobs. It also affected the way the community works in Adelanto. Outside of job placement, resources [are an issue], because everyone sticks to themselves.

They are really cautious of everyone, which creates a kind of divide within the community of North Adelanto.

So I think that is one of the main reasons why our job is so important, especially in low income and endangered communities, for the lack of better words, is because we’re bringing in something that they never thought they had… It’s so enlightening when we give them resources that literally where right around the corner from them. But they didn’t even know about them. 

[Zuleyma]: Right, why do you think community members have trouble accessing these resources by themselves? 

[Kenneth]: I think it’s a multitude of things. [For one] I think a lot of people have their daily routine. [For example] if they do have a job, they go to work. They kind of keep themselves in such an isolated way that they don’t look for outside resources, they kind of make it on their own, because they can’t go out without wearing a mask or they are afraid of getting sick and dying. They don’t go out and look for resource if it’s going to risk their their health.

[Zuleyma]: That’s understandable, and I think it also showcases the critical role you and other CHWs play in these communities. But I’m sure it also takes a physical and mental toll on you, so what makes it all worth it?

[Kenneth]: Every time we do a vaccination event and it has a huge turnout, people are just so pleased and excited that they are getting vaccinated. That sense of relief they get after they get their vaccine shot, seeing them so happy that they can now navigate their life without worrying about getting the virus, that sense of relief that they feel safe. I think that is what makes me so happy about being a community health worker. 

[Zuleyma]: That’s very interesting to hear. I’m sure some people may wonder if Adelanto residents can’t simply go to San Bernardino sites. Is there a reason why Adelanto residents can’t make it out to San Bernardino?

[Kenneth]: Maybe because a lot of people in North Adelanto don’t have a car or if they do have a car, they have older cars and they don’t have the resources or money to travel outside their community. [Also] a lot of them would have to take time off work to do so and they don’t have that ability. 

So the fact that it’s right around from their house, or maybe a street over and they can possibly make it right when they get off work. I think that’s why [the clinics] are amazing.

[Zuleyma]: So it seems that pop-up clinics are the best way to reach this population. Was it hard to set those up in Adelanto?

[Kenneth]: At first it was hard, but as of now, we have had two successful events and we have two more coming.

Kenneth working alongside Loma Linda staff at a pop-up vaccination clinic in Adelanto.

[Zuleyma]: And who is supporting those efforts?

[Kenneth]: Two of them of course are El Sol and Loma Linda. And then Saint Mary’s is hosting next. 

[Zuleyma]: Got it, and from what I know, those are local organizations. Was that a conscious decision?

[Kenneth]: I think it’s because the people who are spearheading these vaccination events are the people who live in the community. They live there, but they work in environments like Saint Mary’s. So of course they want to bring everything that they see on a daily basis home.

[Zuleyma]: So in a way, they’re giving back to their own communities. That’s very good to hear. And have you guys seen changes since the clinics started?

[Kenneth]: I guess I’ve seen more traffic. There is more people out and about cause they feel more confident in going out. But I would say that there is still that lack of community.

[Zuleyma]: Got it, so what do you think CHWs’ role will be in bringing back that sense of community?

[Kenneth]: I think there role will definitely be building capacity. This is how I see it. If they were a plant all we have to do is give them soil, water, and nutrients. They will do all the rest on their own.

Our job is not to do the work for them. Our job is to show them how to do the work and then work with them.

[Zuleyma]: I think that is a great metaphor to end this episode on. Thank you Kenneth for sitting down with me today.

This episode was brought to you by El Sol Neighborhood Educational Center to learn more about our Three Part Series, please visit our website at elnec.org. Until next time.

Final Thoughts

Community health workers/Promotores de salud have shown great commitment for their communities, and their efforts in advocating for health and equity during the COVID-19 pandemic are being recognized at the national level. However, funding for future programs headed by CHWs/Ps is unclear, and the field will continue to be filled with uncertainty unless it is fully integrated into our public health infrastructure. At the end of the day, CHWs/Ps made the conscious decision to put on a cape during a pandemic, the least we can do is honor their role in the public health field.

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