Breaking Barriers to Good Health on the East End
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Nearly a year ago, administrators at Hudson River Health Care’s Southampton clinic began to realize that they could reach more potential patients if they engaged members of the public to talk with their friends and neighbors about good health.
So began the Health Promoters program, which started late last summer when HRHCare Community Outreach Worker Jesse Woo and Manager of Outreach Services Ligia Soto-Cruz hand-picked nine people who they thought would be enthusiastic and eager to help their community.
The Health Promoters hail from a wide variety of Latin American and South American countries, as well as from local African-American communities. Many of them speak Spanish and several speak Portuguese, but what they share, said Ms. Woo, is a curiosity and interest in learning about each others’ cultures, and about helping their neighbors and friends.
They meet as a group once a month to learn about the disease awareness topic of the month, how patients can help find low or no-cost screening for those diseases, and about healthy eating and living.
At their February meeting, they discussed nutritional balancing with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County nutritionists Juana Huartas and Melek Baba.
In January, they had discussed breast and prostate cancer screenings for people who don’t have insurance.
“They have ID cards, and they go out to events with us,” said Ms. Woo at their February meeting. “We have an awareness topic each month, and they’re given materials approved by HRHCare. They’re trained by us, and they speak from their training.”
East Hampton resident Ana Carrillo, a yoga teacher and mother of an infant, knows quite a bit about healthy living.
An immigrant from Venezuela, she says she hopes to “do outreach to the community that needs help, getting out the knowledge that helps prevent sickness.”
“We are from different places, different cultures, but we all speak the same language,” she said of many of the Spanish-speaking members of the Health Promoters group. “We bring food in from different cultures to share with each other.”
Husband and wife Cleber and Flavia Mello of Bridgehampton met Ms. Woo, who was their ESL teacher, not long after they arrived on the East End. They’ve lived in the United States for 16 years and are originally from Brazil. Cleber works in construction and Flavia is an accountant.
“We said we’d love to help the community,” said Ms. Mello, who speaks Portuguese, English and Spanish. “Spanish speakers, some of them are afraid to get medical help because of their immigration status.”
“This place helps them,” she said of HRHCare. “It’s affordable, and they offer a lot of preventative health services. We’ve come across a lot of people who had health issues, but they had no idea they had rights.”
Health Promoters assist HRHCare staff at health fairs and at booths at public events, including the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation’s winter health fairs, held the first Friday of the month during the winter at Most Holy Trinity R.C. Church in East Hampton. At February’s meeting, two Health Promoters volunteered to make hundreds of fish tacos for the March health fair.
Beatriz Fonseca and Carlos Catalan of Hampton Bays have a ten-year-old daughter, and Mr. Catalan said they joined the group because they have friends who are afraid to seek help for health issues.
“We have a daughter, and we want her to grow up in a better condition,” said Mr. Catalan. “I have friends, many who don’t know about health. They need to learn to prevent problems and not wait until the last minute. They’re afraid it’s too expensive. They’re afraid of doctors. They don’t want to know what’s wrong, but it’s better to know.”