Susana Garza came to the Wyandotte County Community Health Council last week for help and found it in Guadalupe Tredway.
Garza is a single mom with four kids who found out on a recent trip to the dentist that her kids’ Medicaid coverage had been canceled.
She told her story, in Spanish, to Tredway, who within minutes had figured out why the coverage lapsed. Tredway reassured the anxious Garza that she could help her re-apply and the kids would get covered again.
“We got it,” Tredway said.
Tredway is one of seven community health workers whose positions were established in 2015 through a three-year, $1.9 million grant from UnitedHealthcare’s charitable wing.
UnitedHealthcare is the nation’s largest private insurer and one of three private companies that have state contracts to administer Kansas Medicaid, or KanCare. The goal of the grant program is to help low-income residents — many of them immigrants and refugees — navigate the web of health care and social services available to them to manage chronic conditions and avoid costly and painful medical treatments.
“We are the bridge between people and the programs around the area,” said Tredway, who was a nurse in Mexico City before coming to Wyandotte County about 12 years ago.
The community health worker program has now helped more than 1,000 people and will celebrate the milestone Thursday evening at an event that includes Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Unified Government Mayor Mark Holland, UnitedHealthcare executives and a variety of public health officials.
A roundtable discussion about Kansas City’s health challenges is scheduled just before the celebration, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the community health council offices at 803 Armstrong Ave.
The grant expires after this year, but UnitedHealthcare Kansas Health Plan CEO Kevin Sparks said he’s talked with state and local officials about ways to keep the community health workers on the job and Jerry Jones, the community health council’s executive director, said the long-term goal would be to put a worker in every safety net clinic in the county.
Tredway said the program is relatively simple. She gets people referred to her, either by Wyandotte County Health Department staff or other members of the public. Then she tries to meet their needs by connecting them to health and social services provided by the Unified Government, the state or private groups like El Centro and Catholic Charities.
Lucia Jones, a former nurse and the project director who coordinates the seven health workers, said the refugee and immigrant communities in particular need “hand-holding” to navigate the system.
“We try to match the community health worker with the patient based on their culture,” Jones said.
Six of seven workers are bilingual, she said. Four speak Spanish, one speaks Nepalese and one speaks Hakha Chin, a southeast Asian language popular with the area’s Burmese refugees.
Even with the health workers’ help, some things are hard to get, Jones said. Dental care, mental health care and pest control are at the top of the list.
“Bed bugs are a huge issue,” Jones said.
But some things are easier. The health workers used some of the grant money to buy blood pressure monitors that they gave to clients with hypertension. Tredway said one client was so successful at lowering her blood pressure through regular walks that she brought her monitor back because she thought it was broken.
Another client, Marta Villescas, 64, has chronic asthma and is waiting on Medicare eligibility. She was homeless when she came to Tredway, having just gotten out of a bad relationship with no family in Kansas City to help. Tredway worked with the Kansas City, Kan., Housing Authority to get her an apartment, then helped her furnish it with secondhand goods from a charity called My Father’s House.
After helping Garza, Tredway visited Villescas in her clean, well-appointed space. Tredway used her phone to look up the nearest farmers market, because grocery stores are scarce in Villescas’ neighborhood and she doesn’t have a car. Then she examined one of Villescas’ medications and found that the pharmacy had given her the wrong dosage.
“I’m going to go with her and talk to them,” Tredway said.
Tredway also helped Garza get a bike helmet and training on how to ride. Garza is now starting a riding club with other friends and neighbors.
“That’s what we do,” Tredway said. “Help them to do it, then they help others.”