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Voces Unidas steps up to provide promotoras assistance

Program aimed at helping Latinos navigate COVID-19 resources

Liz Velasco, lead promotora for Voces Unidas de las Montañas Covid-19 Latino outreach, case management and advocacy program.
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A Glenwood Springs-based Latino advocacy organization that formed earlier this year about the same time the coronavirus pandemic hit is stepping up to help provide COVID-19 support.

Voces Unidas de las Montañas’ grant-funded promotoras program comes as Garfield County commissioners recently turned down a non-competitive sole-source contract with an outside nonprofit organization to administer the county Public Health Department’s Latino outreach program.

But the idea behind the Voces Unidas effort is not to replace programs run by the county or other governmental organizations, said Alex Sanchez, executive director for the organization.



Rather, it’s meant to complement and give greater one-on-one support and advocacy within the Latino community, beyond whatever Garfield, Eagle or Pitkin counties are able to provide, he said.

Voces Unidas has hired a lead promotora, longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident and professional bilingual medical interpreter, Elizabeth Velasco.



A second bilingual and bicultural promotoras is expected to be hired by next week, Sanchez said.

The effort is being funded by two one-time grants aimed at COVID-19 assistance — one in the amount of $40,000 from the Colorado Health Foundation, and another for $25,000 from the Colorado Springs-based El Pomar Foundation.

“Our priority is to help Latinos who test positive or have been exposed and need additional one-on-one, culturally competent support to access care and resources,” Sanchez said. “We are also prioritizing Latinos who may be impacted with a new wave of job reductions in the winter months and connecting them to resources.”

In addition to the promotoras program, Voces Unidas is using some of its COVID-19 assistance funds to provide direct financial aid to individuals who do not qualify for traditional programs due to their immigration status.

What is to begin as a four-month effort is not meant to be permanent, Sanchez emphasized.

“We have been actively involved as an organization in meeting the unique gaps that have existed during COVID,” he said. “We only step in when we see that the ecosystem is not quite filling those gaps.”

It remains important for public health departments to keep all residents informed and provide resources to deal with the pandemic, Sanchez said.

A promotora is a lay member of the Hispanic/Latino community who receives specialized training to provide basic health education in Spanish, without necessarily being a public health professional or health-care worker.

Key to that is delivering information and providing support in a “culturally competent” and “community led” manner, Sanchez said.

“We as an organization have clearly seen a gap where those working within the existing ecosystem are having a difficult time putting forth the effort to support a community that is disproportionately impacted,” he said.

“Our program is not meant to replace, supplant or replicate what the counties are doing. We want them to be successful, because that means all communities are going to be served.”

Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said she welcomes the support from Voces Unidas and any organization that could make use of the promotoras materials the county is using.

“Garfield County Public Health has developed a tool kit with resources on COVID to be used by anyone in the community,“ Long said in an email response. ”We are happy to share this resource with partners that can help us find ways of getting materials and messages out to our community.”

Velasco was involved in the founding of the local Voces Unidas organization, and headed up the Ayuda (help) community navigator program when the initial COVID-19 outbreak was at its peak in April and May.

She explained the three tiers of the promotoras program, which involve education, one-on-one case management and patient advocacy.

“Our job is to assess clients within the target community of people that we want to help, whether they tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms, and aren’t sure what to do,” Velasco said. “A lot of it is just being with them, saying we’re here to support you, and to make sure your civil rights are protected.”

A lot of questions people have relates to their jobs, whether they are entitled to paid sick leave, and what type of documentation is required, she said.

“As a certified medical interpreter, I know how the hospital system works and can help them navigate the system,” Velasco explained. “For people who are sick, it’s hard to think about everything you need to do, where to go, if they need to keep the kids at home to quarantine … all those things.

“It gets very complicated, especially for somebody who doesn’t speak English,” she said.

Sanchez said the promotoras program also serves as a referral agency to the various human service organizations that are available, and is not out to duplicate those efforts.

“In the middle of a pandemic, people need that one-on-one case management support,” he said. “Patient advocacy is a big part of it.”

At the same time, Voces Unidas has also been able to provide about $30,000 worth of direct assistance to date for those in need who don’t qualify for traditional programs, Sanchez said. That can go to help pay for things like medications, a car or utility payment, and rental assistance, he said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Editor’s note: This story was updated from the original version to include a comment from Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long


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