Friday, February 12, 2016 12:00 AM

Going beyond the bedside to the doorstep with community outreach

Transparent communications help prevent and remedy health problems. Such dialogue needs to occur not only at a patient’s bedside but also at the home doorstep. Community Medical Centers uses social workers, home healthcare staff, educators and others to bring best health practices to Valley residents inside and outside traditional healthcare settings.

Alma Martinez, Community Outreach Coordinator, emcees in English and Spanish at the 2015 Yokomi Block Party near Community Regional. Part of Alma's job is to act as liaison between underserved communities and Community's healthcare system.

One of those who engages the public is Alma Martinez, Community’s outreach specialist. Martinez, who speaks English and Spanish, is a former producer at Radio Bilingüe, Fresno’s bilingual public radio station. She helps the public navigate health services – medical and administrative – at Community Regional Medical Center, where she’s based. She also reaches out to residents in the underserved neighborhood surrounding the downtown medical center to facilitate access to care and help improve delivery of health services.

The American Hospital Association advocates for increased community involvement. "Engaging patients, families and communities has the potential to be a 'game changer' in the transformation of the healthcare system in the United States," the association wrote in its 2013 report Engaging Health Care Users: A Framework for Healthy Individuals and Communities.

Several studies have shown that healthcare systems and medical programs employing community outreach workers have significantly reduced emergency department use, hospital admissions and readmissions. Plus those with community outreach workers have seen overall healthcare costs go down and health improve for the populations they serve.

Spanish speaking residents in the Yokomi area participate in a focus group gathering information for the Community Health Needs Assessment compiled every three years by local hospitals.

Since her position was established in July 2014 at Community, Martinez has collaborated with the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California to bring community groups and representatives of various cultures to help in developing a local health needs assessment for hospitals. And she’s involved with government and private organizations working on mental health and diabetes issues in the region.

“The best part of my job is listening to our patients and their families, and suggesting ways Community can help,” said Martinez, who also writes a Spanish-language blog on the Community web site. “We’re being more receptive and deliberate in the way we listen to our patient communities.”

Reported by Erin Kennedy and John G. Taylor. Reach them at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.