FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UNM Cancer Center Employee
Named “Community Health Worker of the Year”
CHWs support UNM Cancer Center’s efforts to improve health
in New Mexico’s multicultural and multiethnic communities
Albuquerque, NM—January 25, 2011—Mónica Toquinto, a Community Health Worker (CHW) with the UNM Cancer Center’s Ventanilla de Salud Program, has been named “Community Health Worker of the Year” by the New Mexico Community Health Workers Association (NMCHWA). The award is based on peer nominations. Toquinto, who has worked for the UNM Cancer Center nearly three years, was honored at the NMCHWA’s 2010 annual meeting.
Launched in 2008, Ventanilla de Salud (Window of Health) is a partnership between the UNM Cancer Center and the Mexican Consulate designed to provide New Mexican Hispanics with culturally relevant health information and referrals to low-cost providers. It is one of several programs run by the Cancer Center’s Office of Community Partnerships and Cancer Health Disparities, which works to lower cancer rates in high-risk populations and reduce health disparities among New Mexico’s multicultural and multiethnic communities. The UNM Cancer Center was recently awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to expand the Office of Community Partnerships and Cancer Health Disparities.
“Community health workers like Mónica play an absolutely fundamental role in educating New Mexican residents about cancer prevention and connecting them with the health services they need,” said Dr. Barbara Damron, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of the Office of Community Partnerships and Cancer Health Disparities. “We are proud of Mónica and extremely grateful for her efforts on behalf of New Mexico’s medically underserved communities.”
“We couldn’t be more proud of Mónica,” said María D. Otero, Director of Community Outreach for Hispanic/Latino Programs, part of the Office of Community Partnerships and Cancer Health Disparities. “She is incredibly dedicated and really cares about her community. The work that she and other CHWs do makes a huge difference: between January and September of last year, Mónica and her colleagues reached 7,908 community members with education and prevention programs and referred 399 people to a medical ‘home’.”
“I am pleased to receive the award,” said Toquinto. “The work we do helps a lot of community members, especially those in rural communities lacking good access to health information and resources.”
As a CHW, Toquinto works to connect members of New Mexico’s underserved Hispanic communities to health education and services. Many of the clients at Ventanilla de Salud’s Albuquerque and Santa Fe locations hail from rural areas of the state; Toquinto assesses their eligibility for government-funded health insurance and other primary care services, and refers them to health care providers within their own communities. She also serves as a lay health educator, providing culturally relevant presentations on cancer awareness and prevention, tobacco control and diabetes, among other health topics.
CHWs, also known as promotores de salud, are increasingly recognized as vital links between medically underserved populations and the health care system. A recent article in the New Yorker, for example, highlighted their growing role as educators, advocates and key points of access; health care providers are turning to CHWs to improve health service delivery and the effectiveness of primary care. As Toquinto says, “We help people navigate inside and outside the system. And we support them to become active participants in their own health.”
The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of the State of New Mexico, and one of only 66 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the nation. It is home to 85 board-certified oncology physicians representing every cancer specialty and more than 125 research scientists hailing from such prestigious institutions as M.D. Anderson, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. The UNM Cancer Center provides treatment for more than 65% of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer, from every county in the state. In 2010, it provided care to over 15,800 cancer patients. The Center’s research programs are supported by $59 million annually in federal and private funding.