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Community Health Workers Share Goals and Experience Through Telemedicine

Members of the Utah coalition with Dr. Weinstein and some of the ATP Training staff after their day of training.

It’s at least a 12-hour drive from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the Arizona-Mexico border city of Nogales. But for community health workers in both of those cities, the distance has become much shorter, thanks in large part to the Arizona Telemedicine Program.

Salt Lake City is home to the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute – a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center – as well as the recently formed Community Health Worker Coalition of Utah, a project of the Utah Department of Health. The coalition is made up of about 30 organizations, including Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Earlier this year, when the coalition recognized the need to expand its reach throughout Utah, Anna Guymon, who spearheaded the coalition, met with Ana Maria Lopez, MD, associate vice president for health equity and inclusion at the University of Utah Health Sciences, and director of cancer health equity at Huntsman. Dr. Lopez also was founding medical director of  the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona Health Sciences in Tucson.

Ms. Guymon expressed the coalition’s needs to connect with colleagues and patients across long distances, and for improved access to education; in particular, cancer prevention education.

Dr. Lopez connected Ms. Guymon to Patty Molina, senior director of community health services at the Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Arizona and offered to support the collaboration by supporting the travel and the education in telemedicine and community engagement in her role as Associate Director, Collaboration and Engagement, Utah Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

Ms. Molina oversees Mariposa’s community health workers – also known to Spanish speakers as promotoras – to help promote the health of families and individuals in their neighborhoods. When Dr. Lopez was with ATP, she and Ms. Molina collaborated on a project called ¡Vida! to provide classes on nutrition, exercise and other information to women with breast cancer, and cancer survivors, in communities around Arizona, through the ATP’s distance learning program.

In early April, Dr. Lopez invited Ms. Molina and members of her promotora team to travel to Salt Lake City to visit the Huntsman Cancer Institute. While there, they attended the inaugural meeting of the Utah Community Health Workers Coalition on April 11.

It was a perfect storm of experts dedicated to cancer prevention and survival, and promoting the health of their communities.

Members of the Utah coalition and Mariposa Community Health Workers in front of the Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, AZ.  (Photo credit: Angel Holtrust)And on April 29, members of the Utah coalition traveled to Tucson, for a day of training with ATP – including an overview of telemedicine by Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, co-founder and director of the ATP – and a visit to Mariposa Community Health Center, for lunch and discussion with several of the clinic’s promotoras, as well as a training session on clinical care coordination, and how the promotoras work with providers in their community.

“Many communities in Utah have limited access to health care due to cultural, geographic and socioeconomic barriers,” Ms. Guymon said. “The use of telemedicine offers an innovative opportunity to connect community health workers, patients and providers in ways that reduce or eliminate barriers to accessing care.”

“We were glad to have the opportunity to share our expertise, and I think there is potential for future collaboration,” said Ms. Molina.

Said Dr. Lopez, “Now that the teams have bonded, we look forward to an ongoing virtual mentorship and for opportunities to learn more about telemedicine.”

The written evaluation comments from Utah coalition members were enthusiastic.

“The quality of the speakers and content was A plus. I appreciate the hands-on, cultural competency, and breadth of training,” said one trainee. Said another: “You are doing an incredible job.”

About the Author

Jane Erikson's picture

Jane Erikson joined the staff of the Arizona Telemedicine Program in April 2013. She was already familiar with the program, as she previously wrote about the program during her nearly 20 years of covering health care for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. Jane has lived in Arizona most of her life and is a graduate of the University of Arizona.


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