A Healthier Lifestyle: Highmark, partners team to promote wellness for Latino community.

A Healthier Lifestyle: Highmark, partners team to promote wellness for Latino community.

Lupe Sidhu is worried—about her husband Sansar’s high cholesterol and high blood pressure, about their lack of medical benefits.

Originally from Mexico and India respectively, the Sidhus moved to Harrisburg for employment. With so many health questions, Lupe initially didn’t know where to go, but then a program offered through Highmark and her church opened up opportunities to learn.

“Before, I wasn’t interested in learning about healthy living,” said Lupe. “But now I need to learn more about issues of the heart, for my husband.”

Highmark’s Health Equity and Quality Services (HEQS) team provides services to diverse populations throughout the Harrisburg region and beyond. To share the message of healthy lifestyles with these audiences, the team tailors health education programs for various cultures and works with faith-based, community and social organizations to reach community members. Their newest endeavor, geared toward the Latino community in Harrisburg, is called “Seven Steps to Good Health.”

According Dr. Oralia Garcia Dominic, Highmark health equity and quality consultant, the first step in creating the Seven Steps initiative was to “meet with community leaders to find out if there are any needs, and, if so, what would the program [to meet those needs] look like?”

Dr. Dominic and fellow HEQS team member Esmeralda Hetrick met with numerous community leaders who serve the Latino population in the greater Harrisburg region. Some of their recommendations surprised Highmark staff. Health research and statistics already show that residents in the Allison Hill neighborhood of Harrisburg deal with high incidences of diabetes, colorectal cancer, hypertension and obesity. Less obvious was the importance of oral healthcare, as well as proper skin care and hygiene habits. And, when it came to diabetes, their concerns were very specific.

“Know the facts, know your numbers, and learn how to lower your risks. That was a new perspective,” explained Hetrick.

Staff from St. Francis of Assisi and the Bilingual Christian Church, both located in Allison Hill, partnered with Highmark to start the Seven Steps to Good Health initiative in the Harrisburg area. These organizations already had a health program in place, so Highmark knew they were committed to the goal of promoting healthy lifestyles. From the start, Highmark “depended 100 percent on the churches,” said Dr. Dominic.

“We have to meet the people where they are and provide culturally appropriate and tailored health education programs for the members of both churches,” she said. “We focus on four behavioral change strategies: education and awareness, skill building, health screening and follow-up treatment.”

Father Orlando Reyes of St. Francis Assisi was interested in working with Highmark on the Seven Steps program.

“We need a lot of social services,” he said. “Many of our members are immigrants from Central and South America, and also Africa.”

Two such immigrants are Manuel and Blanca Romero. This couple moved from El Salvador to New York, where they lived for 16 years. Just last year, they moved to Harrisburg and immediately became members of St. Francis of Assisi. They participated in the Seven Steps program in order to “make friends and get to know their fellow church members,” said Manuel. He added that the event was a lot of fun too, with food, singing and dancing. Learning about healthy living and the resources available to them was a useful secondary benefit.

The Romeros and more than 100 other church members participated in the first program event at St. Francis of Assisi, held on May 18. This festive kick-off event celebrated healthy cooking and honored mothers for their role in families’ healthy eating and cooking habits. At the event, attendees received bilingual, healthy-eating cookbooks featuring Latino recipes, as well as other handouts and giveaways. A meal was prepared by church members, including Juan Garcia,owner of El Sol restaurant in Harrisburg, using recipes from the cookbook, such as pupusas revueltas (Salvadoran-style stuffed masa cakes) and encurtido salvadoreño (Salvadoran pickled cabbage).

“In the Latino culture, parents are highly respected, and they serve as guides for the best interest of their families,” said Father Reyes. “Mothers especially look out for the health and physical well-being of family members, and Mother’s Day provided the perfect occasion to applaud them for their efforts. My hope is to educate our community members on all the seven steps, to have them take it personally, to make them their best, and to help future generations. We are so grateful to Highmark for reaching out to the poor communities in the Harrisburg area and helping meet their needs.”

What’s next for Highmark and the Seven Steps to Good Health initiative? At the two Allison Hill locations, the next steps “will be dictated by the churches,” said Dr. Dominic. “After the December program, we will see if there are new needs to consider or if the steps should stay the same” in the coming year.

Other parts of Pennsylvania, as well as neighboring states, are considering the adoption of the program, as well. Dr. Dominic and the rest of the Highmark staff involved with the Seven Steps initiative are excited that the program is taking off elsewhere.

“This program provides you with the information and resources about staying healthy and sends the message that small steps make a big difference,” says Dr. Dominic. “Empowering people to make lifestyle changes to improve their overall health—and encouraging Latinos to visit their doctor regularly—is what this initiative is all about.”

Other organizations interested in joining the Sevens Steps to Good Health initiative, or in receiving cookbooks, pedometers and other healthy lifestyle materials for their members, should contact Highmark HEQS by calling 1-866-260-1709.

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