Wednesday, May 7, 2008

AmeriCorps week profile: Narda Hernandez

May 7, 2008
Tulane University Community Health Clinic
611 N Rampart Street
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

When we heard the news, it made us feel like, at least for a moment, somebody got something right.

Narda Hernandez, 23, has been awarded a fellowship to stay and work in New Orleans for two more years. There's talk down here about a brain gain--young people with educations moving here falling in love with the City and staying.

Hernandez is a part of this group, but she's more valuable than most, because she's big on ideas others don't pay much attention to.

Hernandez is from Laredo, Tex. Her word choice switches from English to Spanish, sentence to sentence, no matter the native tongue of her counterpart. She came to New Orleans with the AmeriCorps, a one-year commitment she made right after graduating college.

Over 600 AmeriCorps and Teach for America members are currently working in the City.

After the storm, Spanish-speaking day laborers flooded New Orleans. They, in no small part, have been major contributors to the recovery.

She's always had an interest in community health, and heard about the migrant and seasonal workers moving to New Orleans. Hernandez wondered what kind of health care options would be available.

New Orleans' Latino population pre-storm was only 3.1 percent according to the 2000 census.

Tulane University Community Health Clinic organizers tell the simple beginning story of one doctor, one table and an ice chest keeping the tetanus shots cold. The clinic is now funded by a portion of the 100 million dollars the nation of Qatar gave to New Orleans after the storm.

Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar, visited New Orleans two weeks ago. Maybe to see how his money was being spent.

Since she's been in New Orleans, (less than a year) she's started a language translation program at the health clinic. At almost all times, a Spanish speaker is available to translate doctor-patient dialog. When Hernandez first came, few Spanish speakers used the clinic. Receiving healthcare in a different language is often an intimidating or unpleasant experience, Hernandez says.

"Word of mouth started spreading and we started getting alot of Spanish speakers," she says.

Now clinic officials say that they see 30-50 Spanish speakers a week in the four full-time doctor staff that is augmented by medical residents at the Tulane University Medical School. The Spanish interpreter program is volunteer based with eight people who commit to six to eight hours a week. Tulane University undergraduate Spanish students also volunteer during the school year.

Hernandez will be leaving the AmeriCorps and community health clinic at Tulane in June for the the New Voices fellowship. New Voices provides the salary for its fellows to work for two years in accredited non-profits around the country and its mission, like the name, is to fund social entrepreneurs who may not look like decision-makers from previous generations.

"Eso es mi mero mole (That's my thing) ," Hernandez says about working with the Latino population here. During her fellowship Hernandez will be working with the Common Ground health clinic. She'll continue healthcare outreach to the migrant workers in New Orleans, but will be focusing on the Latinas who work in the hotel and tourism industry.

"The focus has been about helping males," she says. "But what about the Latinas?"

Hernandez is one of the won't take no for an answer people that New Orleans desperately needs. The small group working to improve Latino access to healthcare is strong she says.

"There is a sense of uncertainty about what will happen. The health care infrastructure is above us, but because we are a community health clinic, it gives us a sense of flexibility," she says.

"There's nothing stopping us from a community front."

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