As a single working woman caring for three young grandchildren, Andrea Vasquez knows all too well what living from paycheck to paycheck is like. The Toledo native has faced being uninsured, including while needing treatments for cancer, high blood pressure and other health problems.
Now Andrea taps into those experiences as a community health worker and insurance navigator for Toledo/Lucas County CareNet, which helps low-income residents get access to insurance coverage, medical care and social services. A former CareNet member who relied on the charity care network for medical services, Andrea is an integral part of an expanding community-wide care coordination system.
“It’s so rewarding to help people like myself who work so hard to support themselves and their families but need some assistance,” Andrea says. “I know firsthand how CareNet makes a difference in this community and that feeling of relief from having someone who can help.”
Andrea and other community health workers employed by care providers throughout Lucas County are coordinated by the Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio’s Northwest Ohio Pathways HUB. Formed in 2006, Pathways has worked to improve birth outcomes in Lucas County by securing needed medical and community resources for pregnant women most at risk for having low birth weight babies.
In 2015, Pathways expanded to include community health workers who help coordinate care for Toledoans living in low-income neighborhoods with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – or who are likely to get them. Community health workers get medical coverage for clients, navigate the healthcare system with them, and provide health education through regular home visits.
The call to help low-income Lucas County adults prevent and manage chronic diseases with evidence-based services is urgent: 74% of residents making less than $25,000 a year were overweight or obese; 46% had high blood pressure; and 24% had diabetes, according to the 2013/2014 Lucas County Community Health Assessment.
Community Health Workers
One key of the Pathways model is using community health workers to find and assist residents with managing their care. Community health workers are on the frontlines of public health, and they either are trusted members of the community they serve or have an unusually close understanding of its needs.
Andrea works with clients to prevent and manage chronic diseases by going to medical appointments, getting tests done, and obtaining a range of services needed to be healthy.
“Once people have insurance coverage, they may not know how to manage the healthcare system – or how to get healthy food, housing, transportation and other services,” Andrea says. “Toledo has a lot to offer, and my job is to make sure people learn how to get what they need.”
This infographic takes a look at some of the healthcare needs for six underserved Toledo ZIP codes where Pathways is helping residents prevent and manage chronic diseases.