Juan Perez is a part of the growing Juniper community health workers program that positions CHWs in community and healthcare settings to help connect people with Juniper classes and other social services. This is the third in a series of articles about Juniper CHWs.
In August of 2021, Juan Perez became Sanford Worthington Medical Center’s first community health worker. With a commitment to the community it serves, Sanford received funding through Trellis to create the Juniper position and hired Juan to fill it. Given his five years of experience as a certified medical interpreter and with deep roots in the Worthington community, Juan was a perfect fit.
Community program specialist, Christine Bullerman, says she walked by Juan in a hallway at Sanford and a lightbulb went off. “Knowing him as a trusted interpreter for Sanford’s Spanish-speaking patients, I asked Juan if he was sensing things from patients that were making him wish he could do more and he said, ‘yes,’ so I knew he was the perfect person for the job.” Christine added, “We have so much cultural diversity in our community and our providers are sensing disconnects with people with language barriers and other challenges. They’re excited to have Juan help people remove barriers that prevent them from making their health a priority.”
An interpreter is essential
The oldest of five children, Juan was born in Florida and moved to Guatemala when he was just one year old. His family moved back to Florida when Juan was 13 and then to Worthington where he entered high school, learning English. “We didn’t have Google Translator back then, but teachers took the time to help me with my homework, and it made a big difference. My parents also struggled with the language and eventually, they were able to use me as their interpreter. Helping family members led me to help others.”
Meeting people where they are
Christine says Juan is a very good listener, which is a skill a community health worker needs. “People tell him their story, and he helps them. He’s compassionate and calm, with a warm, welcoming sense about him, and there is immediate trust due to his demeanor. He meets people where they are. I’m grateful that Sanford can provide this service. It takes our care to another level.”
Juan’s care has been lifesaving. A 15-year-old had severe pain on the right side. His mom didn’t want to take him to a doctor because the family had no insurance. Fearful that it was appendicitis, Juan helped get him to the emergency room where they determined his appendix had ruptured and he needed surgery. Juan served as an interpreter and helped the mother fill out an application for medical assistance, something she didn’t know was available to her. “There are probably a lot more people out there not getting the care they need because they don’t have insurance,” says Juan. “I’m working on educating them on what’s available in our community.”
Developing strategies for improved health
Juan is excited to finish earning his community health worker certificate, as he continues to serve his Worthington community. He says, “I help patients by helping them understand their health conditions. Then, we work together to develop strategies to improve their health. I like that I can help people by providing services, resources and connections, based on their needs.”
“Through Juan, we’re seeing the CHW position gain momentum,” says Christine. We are looking at the whole person. This is where health care is going. We’re excited to be one of the first Sanford Medical centers to have this role.”