In the past couple of years, Promotores and Community Health Workers have been receiving significant attention from public health Federal agencies, especially those interested in reaching and making an impact among vulnerable, low income, and underserved members of the Latino/Hispanic population. More specifically, Federal agencies are turning to these individuals for their unique ability to serve as “bridges” between community members and health care services. “Promotores de Salud”, or loosely translated “Promoters of Health,” are similar to community health workers in that they conduct outreach for advocacy organizations, health clinics, and medical organizations. However, many Promotores are not permanently employed; they are individuals and leaders within their community and they volunteer their time to help out due to their love and concern for their communities. Unlike other outreach vehicles, Promotores do not have to be deployed to “hard to reach” areas because they already live, work, and are actively engaged in those areas.
Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the creation of an HHS Promotores de Salud/Community Health Workers Initiative that aims to 1) recognize the important contributions of Promotores, and 2) promote the increased engagement of
Promotores to support health education and prevention efforts and access to health insurance programs. The Initiative is guided by a Federal Work Group representing HHS agencies and coordinated by the HHS Office of Minority Health. A Project Steering Committee of 15 Promotores from various parts of the U.S. regularly provides information to the Federal Work Group. While the Initiative has not yet showed specific outcomes, I personally applaud this first step.
I have had the privilege of working closely with Promotores and community health workers on behalf of my Government clients for the past few years. These individuals are dedicated to their community; they are persistent, resourceful, savvy, compassionate, and noble. They have an admirable gift for service and above all, they will protect their community with “uñas y dientes” (tooth and nail). As the demand for their services increases and more Government and public relations agencies (on behalf of their clients) reach out to them, it will be increasingly important to understand the best ways to approach them to create a genuine and sustainable relationship. The following are my recommended tips for creating such a relationship:
- Understand their work first, then identify if this is the right initiative for your campaign.
- There is not a national Promotores and CHWs program. These exist mainly at the local level. What works in Los Angeles may not work in New York.
- They know how to communicate information to the audience you want to reach. Don’t tell them what to do and/or how to communicate your information; they have the expertise you don’t have. It should be a collaboration.
- Spanish is their preferred language. Try to assign a Spanish-speaking staff member to manage the outreach.
- Pay them for their time, especially if you require a long term commitment and evaluation of the activities.