National forum speaker

Flor Hernandez, a community health worker, makes a point during "Building Bridges to Advance Equity: A peer exchange with the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge communities," an online forum livestreamed on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. 

The Community Care HUB’s program to improve the lives and health of Cambria County and Somerset County residents was spotlighted Tuesday during a national forum on health equity.

“Building Bridges to Advance Equity: A Peer Exchange with the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Communities” featured representatives from 20 programs working to remove barriers to healthy living. The panel focused on addressing racial equity in community health initiatives.

Flor Hernandez, a community health worker working as part of the Community Care HUB, was one of eight participants featured in breakout sessions.

She described the HUB’s model of connecting individuals with resources to improve their health and quality of life.

“We are meeting our participants where they’re at,” she said. “We are talking about mentally, physically, emotionally and, at times, spiritually. At times it can be something tangible. At times it can be something mental.”

The HUB program is sponsored through the 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health and several partner organizations. Hernandez works for Beginnings Inc. of Johnstown. It was launched last year with a focus on pregnant women at risk for gestational diabetes, but is already expanding its reach, Hernandez said.

“Any ideas that will play into such a thing as organizing our community, educating our community and mobilizing them to get to those resources, that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

“We see an issue, we find a resource and we connect that resource, so we open up that pathway.”

She said mental health barriers and access to education have become apparent as issues in this region.

Hernandez described the HUB model as improving the community from its basic roots.

“We are starting with a family unit and creating a family unit to create a healthy community,” Hernandez said.

“If you take care of these basic needs, the family has that opportunity to grow to the next tier. You are helping a community to rehabilitate itself.”

Many of the other participating programs had initiatives to expand access to healthy foods in areas with poverty and limited access to transportation.

Dr. Aletha Maybank, chief health equity officer for the American Medical Association, introduced the program.

“Racism threatens the health of our nation and has played a significant role in producing and widening health disparities,” Maybank said. “It increases sickness and early death in communities of color.”

Tuesday’s panel discussion was part of the American Public Health Association’s programming for National Public Health Week.

1889 Foundation President Susan Mann and HUB Project Manager Leanna Bird also participated in Tuesday’s discussion.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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