UTA a starting point for community health workers – News Center
For Denise Hernandez, adjunct assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington, a successful community health worker (CHW) wears a variety of hats.
“You have this friend, and you have this medical professional, and you have this lawyer,” she said. “You mix them all together and you get a community health worker. They know how to navigate the health care system, and even if they don’t have all the answers, they know where to find them. They are community advocates.
Along with her role with the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Hernandez serves as Executive Director of the DFW-CHW Association, which provides development and outreach opportunities for CHWs and CHW instructors in North Texas. CHWs provide culturally appropriate health education and information, mentoring, and social support. They also link communities to the local health services that serve them, especially for traditionally excluded or marginalized groups.
Health insurance companies use CHWs to educate individuals about health insurance, and hospital systems use them throughout their organizations to help patients. CHWs maintain intimate relationships with the communities they serve, tailoring information, resources and services accordingly. They are also natural helpers, Hernandez said, with an innate desire to serve others.
“We saw it especially during COVID, when CHWs stepped up and responded to immediate community needs,” she said. “If a family needed groceries, we would find them. If they needed help downloading and learning to work with Zoom for their children’s classrooms, there were CHWs doing it because they saw the need.
There are over 4,000 certified ASCs in Texas. One of them is UTA alumnus Ashley Torres. She uses her CHW certification to help members of the community on a day-to-day basis, connecting patients with outpatient care before discharge, guiding them through financial assistance with hospital bills, and sourcing specialists who will help. to cover processing costs, among other tasks.
Torres said she came from an underserved community and wanted to be what her family and community didn’t have: a lawyer.
“Now that I have finished my studies, I know how to be resourceful,” she said. “I wanted to give back to communities similar to the one that made me the person I am now.”
Torres says the public health classes she took at UTA taught by Erin Carlson, a clinical professor of kinesiology, had the biggest impact on her at school. She applied what she learned in courses on epidemiology, leadership and legislation to her career goals.
“I appreciate his passion and his ability to make something interesting in class. I even told him right before I graduated, “Anything you teach or that comes out of you, I’m in love with,” Torres said. “She had the biggest impact on me and helped me make sure I follow what matters most to me.”