Berta Carbajal has been around promotores de salud – the Spanish term for community health workers – since her childhood, with both her grandmother and mother having been promotoras, the trusted go-to people in their communities. And that influence has stayed with her.
“Any position I’ve ever held in a professional capacity, I’ve always been a promotora at heart,” Carbajal says.
As a third generation promotora, she carries that torch and seeks to uplift other community health workers through her Helping Other Promotores Excel (HOPE) Network, of which she is co-founder and manager.
And it is for this dedicated, consistent, long-standing work that the All of Us Research Program from University of Arizona and Banner Health honored Carbajal, naming her the September/October Arizona Health Champion during National Hispanic Heritage Month this year.
Carbajal describes the network as “community-created, community-driven.” Formalized in 2009, the network seeks to empower other promotores in communities by way of resources, education, and training on a variety of topics and issues.
“We recognized that there were a lot of individuals in the community using the promotora model, but yet they did not have any formal training,” Carbajal says. “The community health worker is centuries old, it’s not a new concept at all. Promotores are the go-to people in every community. There are individuals that are trusted, that the community feels comfortable going to in a moment of crisis or for information. They are the go-to people. ... We decided that we wanted to create a platform where we could all meet and collaborate, network, but also provide training, opportunities, and education on every issue, every need that they face in their communities.”
Promotores often address more than just a community’s physical health issues, Carbajal says. They exist as holistic caregivers, responding to a multitude of different problems that households and neighborhoods face, such as unemployment, insurance, language barriers, food scarcity, and mental health.
Carbajal, a fourth-generation Arizonan, likened the situations promotores face to a capirotada, a traditional Mexican food like a bread pudding.
“It’s got all kinds of ingredients,” says Carbajal. “Well, that’s how our community is. You may be addressing a family who you’re giving resources on medical insurance, but you also see that there’s unemployment in the home, they don’t know where their next meal’s coming from. So what do you do? Do you give them the medical information and then walk away? No. A promotora stays and says, ‘Here’s some resources that I’d like to provide you. ...’ or you give them directions to the next community center. ... You find that there’s many more issues.”
In addition to the HOPE Network, Carbajal works as a research specialist at Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. There, she helps inform and educate caregivers of those with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias on how to manage their own stress and well-being.
“Our workshops focus on helping the family, the caregiver, and their families and their loved ones, navigate the changes that are coming, preparing for the future, how to manage the behavior changes that will affect their loved one,” says Carbajal, who dedicated the work in memory of her late mother, whom Carbajal cared for as she suffered from dementias.
The health champion and community leader continues with all her work, saying that only when her passion fades will she stop.
“The day that I lose the passion for what I do,” Carbajal says, “that’s the day I need to retire.”