EL CENTRO AIMS TO CLOSE HEALTH AND DIGNITY GAP THROUGH HEALTH CARE NAVIGATION PROGRAM
El Centro, Inc. has a 40-plus year history of providing information and social, educational and economic supports to Latino families primarily in Wyandotte and Johnson counties. The agency was awarded a $26,866 grant to provide health care navigation services for uninsured and medically underserved Latino individuals and families – one of six organizations awarded a REACH Health Care Navigation and Care Coordination grant. In total, REACH has invested $263,806 in the agency’s work in the Latino community. For El Centro’s staff, navigation and assistance are essential services for their clients, who confront health care access challenges and other barriers due to language, culture, economic and other factors.
El Centro’s commitment to client assistance began nine years ago as staff grappled with an increasing caseload of requests for help with health care issues. Early on, the organization adopted a patient navigation model to provide case management and referral services for clients with health needs. El Centro’s health navigators completed training through the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute, a nationally recognized model, where they were trained in three key areas of patient navigation: being culturally attuned to clients; understanding the environments in which clients are being served; and forging connections with community entities that affect their clients’ health care.
The Health Navigation Program works primarily with Latino, new immigrant, Spanish-speaking, low-income individuals who are uninsured. More than half of clients were Wyandotte County residents; 45 percent were Johnson County residents; and the remainder from neighboring Missouri and other nearby locations. Ninety-five percent listed Spanish as their primary language. All of El Centro’s staff who provide assistance to clients are bilingual and multicultural.
El Centro’s Health Navigation Program was introduced in 2009 with 257 clients served. By 2016, clients served increased to 1,062 and staff say it continues to grow.
Erica Andrade, the Health Navigation program manager, said that most of the clients were referred through “word of mouth” by other clients, trusted neighborhood and community leaders, safety net health care organizations and community health workers. Andrade says that El Centro has “put a lot of energy” into building a strong and wide network of health partners and local resources to help their clients with an array of health needs – assistance with insurance enrollment, appointment scheduling, securing specialty care, vouchers for eye glasses, prescription medicine assistance, optical care, hearing aids, emergency dental services and diabetes testing supplies and other medical equipment. The agency’s navigators and assisters sit down one-on-one with clients to explain insurance policies, how to make payments for medical services and what information to provide for medical appointments.
On one busy morning at the agency’s main offices in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, a client stopped in for a voucher to obtain glasses. Another needed assistance with scheduling an appointment for specialty care at a local hospital.
“The most common questions we get are about health care costs, and whether the client can afford recommended specialty care,” says Andrade, who notes that many of their clients are unsure of their options when being referred for cancer care, dialysis and treatment for other chronic conditions. “We take time to walk them through the process and explain the steps, and also help them gain confidence so that they can advocate for themselves within these systems.”
Andrade oversees this work along with health navigator Justin Gust and two intake staff. Early on, Andrade was a staff of one – but after Gust joined the team in 2014, they increased the number of clients served over a two-year period by 200 percent. In 2016, El Centro provided navigation services to 1,062 unduplicated clients for more than 1,380 units of work, or services. Andrade and Gust maintain that their growing caseloads and program success are due to supportive health partners in the community and their staffs’ strength in building trust with their clients. They note that the needs of their clients are complex and go beyond just scheduling appointments.
“At El Centro, we bring cultural knowledge and understanding of the questions and concerns our clients have. We know the neighborhoods, and have cultural backgrounds that reflect their own. It is how we have been able to continue to grow this program to serve a population that often is unseen, and underserved,” says Andrade.