Partners Connect Women to Community Resources

Photo of Francilia Pena and Ashley Gonzalez

Francilia Pena, Clinic Outreach Coordinator, San Juan Basin Public Health and Ashley Gonzalez, Clinic Manager, San Juan Basin Public Health.

San Juan Basin Public Health is a public health agency serving residents of Archuleta and La Plata counties in rural southwestern Colorado.

Hispanic women with low incomes living in these counties have trouble getting health care, especially preventive care. Few clinics provide interpreters, help with scheduling an appointment, or information about financial assistance. These services became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many women lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating additional barriers in access to health care and leading to worsening health outcomes,” said Ivy Hontz, MA, MNM, Program Coordinator, Women’s Wellness Connection. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Women’s Wellness Connection supports the state’s cancer prevention and early detection program with funds from CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

“It takes work to understand what assistance exists, and even more work to help clients enroll or apply, especially when they do not speak English,” said Ashley Gonzalez, Clinic Manager, San Juan Basin Public Health.

Gaining Trust to Overcome Barriers

Photo of a table with information about free mammograms offered by San Juan Basin Public Health.

San Juan Basin Public Health provides information about free mammograms in English and Spanish.

Francilia Pena, MS, Clinic Outreach Coordinator at San Juan Basin Public Health, reached out to other organizations that serve the Hispanic community in the area. She hosted monthly online meetings where the groups shared information about resources. The organizations worked together to connect women with health care, housing, food, transportation, and other financial assistance during the pandemic. The result was increased trust from women in the community. More women asked for help and received health care.

“Language, lack of resources, and lack of information are big barriers for this community,” said Ms. Pena. “I speak Spanish, which helped me better understand the needs of the women in the community. For example, some of the women could not get to their health care appointments because even though they had cars, they had no money for gas.”

Ms. Pena helped schedule medical appointments for her clients, mailed gas cards to their homes for transportation, and walked them through the application process for financial assistance programs. “I am very proud that I was able to gain the community’s trust and help them overcome these barriers,” she said.

The organizations that worked together to help Hispanic women during the pandemic included Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, Compañeros, and Housing Solutions for the Southwest.

Helping Save a Life

This collaboration helped a Hispanic woman find her cervical cancer early, when it is easier to treat.

A 40-year-old Hispanic woman visited the San Juan Basin Public Health’s clinic, and her records showed that she had not had a cervical cancer screening test in the past 10 years. Her Pap test results were not normal, and the woman was referred for a biopsy.

“She was in great distress,” Ms. Pena said. “This woman lives in a remote mountain town over an hour’s drive away from medical care. The work in her area is seasonal, and you must work during summer to save for winter. She was worried about having to take time off work. She feared she would not have enough money to pay her rent or for pay for her medical procedures.”

Ms. Pena helped schedule a biopsy with an interpreter present and arranged for a ride to the appointment. She worked with the other groups to help her client with rent, food, and payment for her biopsy. The woman was scheduled for treatment after her diagnosis of cervical cancer.

“I am grateful that we were able to help my client even with all the challenges presented by the pandemic,” Ms. Pena said.