It is no secret that community health workers have been a pivotal role in our success as we continue to move through the COVID-19 pandemic. MALVEC has had the luxury of being able to be exposed to many of these community health workers all over the state of Maryland. With the chance to meet so many of these individuals, it shows just how much work and care goes into being in this profession. Our next community health worker will highlight just how important his work is to our community.
Ivan Mejia, who currently works for Adventist Hospital in Montgomery County, came to the United Sates around 14 years ago. In his hometown back in Colombia, he got his bachelor’s degree in public administration, and hoped that he would be able to continue to get his masters once he came to the states.
Working with immigrants has been something that Ivan has done since the moment he came to the United States. He initially started working with immigrants dealing with domestic violence, then transitioned to being a bilingual navigator for Maryland Health Connections. Ivan made it a point of emphasis that he is in this line of work for the people, “Well right now, it’s working with people. If you compare us with another scenario in other types of companies, we don’t make profits. Our reward is basically helping others, so I think this is the most important thing, just helping others and working as a community health worker for sure”.
Ivan got to see firsthand how bad the Latino community was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He went on to say how many Latinos were unable to apply for unemployment benefits. For the first six months of the pandemic, Ivan received many calls from Latinos who did not have anything to eat. He would then take food to these houses, simple things like tortillas, rice and beans. Ivan knew the food wasn’t anything special, but he wanted to make sure the families at least had something to eat.
It is clear that Ivan loves the work he does; he has been helping change the lives of many. Something that is also clear, however, is the importance of an education to Ivan. “I think, as a community health worker, we are educators. For many of our patients and clients, they don’t know how apply for many community programs. They don’t know how to apply for health insurance, they don’t know how to apply for affordable housing, they don’t know how to get free samples of insulin, so it’s a lot of things. Thank God we have some kind of education because we have some time to really advance the programs. One, two, three, four basic and simple words, they can get the knowledge and after that they are already connected”.
Education can go a long way, especially in the times we are in today. Ivan knows that many in our community are afraid of what’s going to happen. No one wants to lose their mother, father, daughter or son. Being educated about COVID-19 and the vaccine is crucial, and that is what Ivan is conveying. The more educated Latinos can be about their health and wellbeing, the better they are to work together and win this fight.