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Community Health Workers change patient lives

Apr 4, 2024 | Blog, Our Staff

Samara Contreras, a Community Health Worker at Horizon’s James Valley Community Health Center in Huron, was having a typically busy day when she was asked by a provider to go to the hospital with one of her patients.

“She said I really need you to squeeze her in because it wasn’t something easy in her situation that she was going through,” Contreras said.

As a native Spanish speaker, Contreras helps patients who don’t speak English understand the medical procedures they need and helps break down barriers to care. Community Health Workers bridge gaps in resources for their patients, such as food and housing. They are there to help them enroll in Medicaid and the insurance marketplace. They also provide a support system to help patients get their health care under control and their lives back on track.

The patient Contreras was asked to help was having abdominal pain and bleeding when she arrived at the James Valley CHC. Contreras was with her for five to six hours in the emergency room, giving her support and helping to translate what doctors were saying.

“I can’t imagine going through the ER not knowing the language and having it explained to you in Spanish,” she said. “Having a miscarriage is really hard.”

The nurse at the hospital thanked Contreras and said she was happy the patient had an advocate who could give her emotional support and be her voice, explaining a terrible situation that she unfortunately had to endure.

“It was one of the hardest cases I got,” Contreras said. “But at least I was there explaining things to her. That was just something that I will remember – being able to help her as a Community Health Worker. It made me cry.”

Not every day is as traumatic as that one, but every day Contreras impacts the lives of the patients she sees.

Ardie Freeman has lived in Huron most of her life and was a patient at Horizon years ago. She stopped coming to the James Valley CHC because she didn’t have health insurance and didn’t think she had anywhere to go for medical care. Gestational diabetes became a lifelong chronic disease for her that she wasn’t always able to manage, especially when she was younger.

Samara Contreras with Ardie Freeman

“I didn’t care about it,” she said. “I thought I was superwoman.”

When she was ready to take control of her health Contreras was there to help. Freeman started exercising and eating right. She lost over 100 pounds and started to monitor her high blood pressure and blood sugar. Contreras works with her two to three times a week either at her home or in the clinic. Freeman said this has made a huge difference in her disease management.

“I don’t want to keel over when I’m 58 or something,” Freeman said. “I want to be around for my family and grandbabies and weddings. I’m trying to take better care of myself.”

Contreras helped her enroll in Medicaid so her previous problem of not having access to health care is gone. Freeman also used the Patient Support Pantry Contreras started at the James Valley CHC. The pantry stocks equipment diabetics need to monitor their disease.

“Samara has been very helpful,” Freeman said. “She just explains everything really well. She’s always smiling, always in a good mood.”

Horizon provider Len Wonnenberg, PA-C, sees the difference in patient care now that the clinic has a Community Health Worker on staff.

“What I find helpful about Samara is she can connect these patients to the resources available in our community so they can be successful,” he said. “What works about the model we have here, if a patient really needs something urgently, I can walk down the hall to Samara and help meet that patient need. You can really connect with a patient one-on-one culturally. She really bridges that gap as far as culture is concerned.”

Community Health Workers are there to make the experience of coming to a medical provider and making tough decisions about their lives a little easier. They can ease the hard road a patient may have been on for years of not having access to basic needs, or the medical, dental or behavioral health services that can help change their lives.

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