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Behind the Scenes at Community Action Partnership: The Health Navigator Program

Part 3 in a new series of interviews with Community Action Partnership Staff

Cal Poly Social Science Student and Community Action Partnership Intern Kaitlyn Oelsner interviews Alma Bernal and Cristina Macedo about their new Health Navigator Program. The Health Navigator Program is funded by First 5 of San Luis Obispo County. 


Kaitlyn: The Health Navigator program is relatively new to CAPSLO.  Can you tell me a bit about what a Health Navigator does?Alma Bernal

Alma: We empower families who have children under the age of five to successfully connect with and utilize available insurance and healthcare resources.  Our target age group is 0-5 years old.  This age group is the most vulnerable and it is a vital time for families to receive suitable assistance.  Our current focus is to aid in the transition between Healthy Families and Medi-Cal.  There is a lot of concern among families that their ability to access health care and insurance will be negatively affected.  Part of our job is to ensure that this transition goes as smoothly as possible and that the needs of our clients are met.

Cristina: This transition is particularly difficult on the Spanish-speaking community.  Navigating the health care system can be difficult for anyone, but it is particularly difficult if you are unfamiliar with the culture and language.  We act as liaisons between the Spanish-speaking community and insurance and health care providers.

A: We are both bilingual and it is a very important skill for us.  I think it’s a huge part of what we do.  A lot of people who are new to the United States are intimidated from the get-go because of the culture shock.  We are people that families can speak with comfortably.  We can relate to them.  We provide our clients with information that allows them to engage in and contribute to their communities.  It is a win-win situation for both the family and the community.

K: What might be involved in a typical day as a Health Navigator?

A:  On a typical day, I will meet with clients at their homes or any place where we can speak privately and in confidence.  I provide them with information about their health care and insurance options.  Once they have decided how they want to receive their health care, I guide them through the application process.  Educating families about insurance and how to apply to insurance is a key component to what we do.  Many of our clients are overwhelmed by the process and don’t know where to start.  We help them take those first crucial steps toward getting coverage for their families.  This assistance is a lifeline for non-English speaking clients.

C:  We also make direct referrals and communicate with providers on behalf of our clients.  We help set up appointments and transportation to and from doctor’s offices.  A lack of transportation is a significant barrier for many of our clients.  We attempt to overcome this barrier by connecting people to services such as Ride Share and public transportation.

A:  It is important that we work around the needs of our families.  Most families don’t get home until five or six and we are more than willing to meet with families in the evening.  A typical day might be a long day but I believe in the work we are doing and for me, it is worth the long hours.

Cristina MacedoKChildren enrolled in the Healthy Families program are currently transitioning to Medi-Cal.  Can you talk a bit about this process and how it affects your clients?

A:  It will be difficult at first but it is like anything new.  There are going to be changes and at first it can be uncomfortable.  I feel strongly that the transition between Healthy Families and Medi-Cal is beneficial to my clients.  This transition is a positive change and I think things are slowly going to fall into place.  Many of my families are unsure about how this transition will affect them.  There are children with serious medical issues who absolutely have to have their medical needs covered.  For many of these families there is a lot of anxiety.  Part of our job is to assist clients in understanding this transition and to ensure that this transition goes smoothly.

C: It can be confusing at first, especially for our Spanish-speaking clients who are unfamiliar with the system.  It is difficult to assess exactly how this transition will affect people, but we are prepared to deal with any issues that may present themselves as more of our families make the change.  We have training sessions on a regular basis and those allow us to stay up-to-date with any changes or new information. Right now, it is a matter of ironing out the bumps.  With time, everything will settle.

K: What has motivated you to do this type of work?

C:  I am from Peru and was very involved in social work there and I have also done some family advocacy work here in California.  I really enjoy working with families.  I have always been passionate about helping others and I find the work to be incredibly rewarding.  There is no better feeling that knowing you have helped another person.

A:  I come from a family of activists.  It‘s in my blood.  Ever since I was a little girl, it has been instilled in me to be the voice for people who do not have a voice.  My mother was very involved in the Cesar Chavez labor and civil rights movement.  Of course, as young children, my siblings and I went wherever she went so we were very fortunate to see that sort of activism first-hand.  Cesar Chaves used to hold rallies at Presiker Park in Santa Maria and my family would organize a raffle so he would have enough gas money to get home.  It was a truly grass roots movement.  I have a picture of my family at one of his rallies on my desk.  It reminds me that anything is possible.  One person with a good heart and enough willpower can make an incredible difference in the lives of many.

K: How do you think your job is helping people; changing lives?

A:  We really empower families.  All of our CAPSLO programs empower families.  As Health Navigators, we give people options and the information they need to make good decisions about their future and their children’s healthcare.  The first five years of a child’s life is critical to their development.  Good health during this time period is the foundation for a healthy, happy and successful future.   We enable families to provide their children with this solid foundation.

C:  Ensuring access to healthcare and insurance for a child will not only change that child’s life for the better but it will also improve the life of the whole family.  The parents of a sick child can’t work and the other children in the family receive less attention and resources.  Ensuring the health of the children in our community contributes to the health of the community as a whole.