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United Way Blog

Mobilizing Local Power to Advance Health Equity

Routine doctor's visits are a fact of life that many of us take for granted. But for some communities in the United States, primary healthcare access is a luxury. Brownsville, a lively Texas-Mexico border city celebrated for its rich Hispanic heritage, is one such place. Despite its vibrancy, Brownsville grapples with formidable challenges. Over a quarter of its inhabitants live in poverty and nearly half lack health insurance. These issues are exacerbated by the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, predominantly affecting the city's Mexican American population. Community Health Worker Silvia Garcia shares that many residents struggle to manage their diabetes due to the hard choice between nutritious food, bill payments and prescriptions, not out of reluctance to take their medications.

Johnson and Johnson, whose commitment to counteracting racial and social disparities in healthcare has led them to support the project, and the United Way Worldwide invited local United Ways around the country to propose health initiatives that support communities of color. The paradigm-shifting initiative was designed to mobilize local United Ways (LUWs) to implement scalable solutions addressing healthcare access in communities. There was an overwhelming response, and eight LUWs were selected to execute health equity projects ranging from childhood immunization and dental care to breast cancer screening. 

The United Way of Southern Cameron County (UWSCC) and UTHealth Houston, School of Public Health (UTHealth)project offers vital medical services to over 30 community members diagnosed with diabetes via a comprehensive chronic care management program, "Salud y Vida" (Health and Life), tied to a mobile medical unit. This original Salud y Vidaprogram has served over 7,000 patients at local Federally Qualified Health Clinics in the region. However, it is now adapting its approach to reach the population that is the most underserved, those without insurance or a medical home. These patients face complex barriers to managing diabetes and other comorbidities like depression and hypertension. Their approach stands out for its sensitivity to often overlooked healthcare access issues in communities like Brownsville. For two decades, UWSCC has been deeply involved in health interventions in Southern Cameron County, demonstrating an understanding of the community's needs. Much of this experience has been gained through the work of the Collaborative Action Board , which meets quarterly to strategize environmental, policy and system change, including providing quality preventive services to improve health in the Rio Grande Valley. The Board is made up of several organizations around the Rio Grande Valley. This experience enables UWSCC to leverage a vast network of resources and support for those with limited healthcare access.

This initiative builds on the long-standing "Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!" (Your Health Matters!) campaign by UTHealth. The campaign uses media and community health workers and offers hundreds of free exercise and healthy cooking classes to improve health outcomes, particularly in low-income neighborhoods across the region.

With the introduction of the Salud y Vida Mobile Medical Unit, UWSCC makes another significant stride towards health equity. Gilbert, a past program participant who lost family members to diabetes, vouched for the effectiveness of the program's interventions. "It's great to know that someone out there cares about people and their struggles," he shared.

Through the Health Equity Challenge, UWSCC, UTHealth and Johnson & Johnson have edged closer to a world with equitable healthcare access. Their combined efforts echo the broader mission of United Way Worldwide - promoting health, education and financial stability globally. They champion community-specific initiatives, making strides towards healthier communities worldwide.

You can join this mission. Visit your local United Way to learn how to contribute to this transformative journey.