Navigating the health care system is difficult for most people – “particularly when you need it,” says Darcie Green. Green is the executive director of Latinas Contra Cancer, which helps cancer patients in the Latinx community overcome obstacles to receiving care.
Latinas Contra Cancer was founded in 2003 to address inequities in the healthcare system for the Latinx community battling cancer. In addition to its patient advocacy work, the group offers health education in English and Spanish, provided by health educators who are part of the communities they serve. Its other programs include survivor support – including therapy in both English and Spanish – and a boutique that offers wigs and mastectomy garments to patients at no cost.
Now, thanks to a grant from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Community Catalyst Fund, Latinas Contra Cancer will build on its patient navigation programs and advocacy work to create Defensoras: Health Care Advocacy Training – a cohort-style training program that aims to instill confidence and skills among the group’s clients so they can serve as change agents in the healthcare system.
Latinas Contra Cancer is one of 22 recipients of a recent round of SVCF’s Community Catalyst Fund grants that support civic participation.This grant program emphasizes funding for BIPOC-led organizations and those with annual budgets of less than $1 million. It is part of a broader strategy by SVCF to achieve systemic change in Silicon Valley — including in the nonprofit community — by responding to the needs of BIPOC and low-income communities.
“Our grant recipients illustrate the broad range of groups whose work encourages civic engagement,” said Jack Mahoney, senior program officer for movement and power building at SVCF. “Latinas Contra Cancer could be seen as a health organization, but they are using tools of civic engagement to achieve their objective: to improve the health and well-being of the Latinx community.”
The new Defensoras: Health Care Advocacy Training program seeks to go beyond helping clients overcome obstacles.
For example, hospitals do not always have enough translators available, even for a common language such as Spanish, Green said. She cites one case in which “relying on a child to do the translation led to an adverse outcome.” If enough clients realize this is not a one-time problem but a more widespread issue, they may be able to advocate for change. This type of issue may be possible to address at the hospital level. Other challenges may require changes to state law.
“We want to help clients understand that the health injustices they experience are not one-off events. It’s a systems issue, not a personal issue,”Green said. “We want to be an organization that not only helps people overcome these inequities – we want to eliminate them.”
The program will have a nine-week curriculum that teaches participants about the foundations of the healthcare system, how to be an effective advocate, and how to harness collective power to make change. Participants will be grouped together by their common experiences – for example, one group may be all Medi-Cal patients, or one may consist of patients who use the same provider.
“The clients we serve, they have the solutions, they know the system,” Green said. “They know why they’ve missed an appointment. They know why it’s been difficult to manage a care plan, why it’s been difficult getting their prescriptions.”
Green said that the SVCF grant “is moving us from service providing to mobilizing.” The group will continue to provide services but is hoping the new program will allow it to make a bigger impact.
“This is the future for our organization. We’re hoping that through these cohorts we start building a network of clients who can start helping each other.”
Learn more about SVCF’s grantees here.
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