Making a Difference for National Hispanic Heritage Month

Content From: Dr. Mary Wakefield, Ph.D., R.N., Acting Deputy Secretary of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: October 15, 20154 min read


Just recently, Secretary Burwell met with the leadership of the United Farm Workers and Farmworker Justice. There is so much we can learn from these leaders today, and from their predecessors.

In 1970, fresh from successfully organizing grape farmworkers, the charismatic chair of the new United Farm Workers Organizing Committee drove hurriedly from San Jose, California to Salinas. Talking to a reporter in the car, he said, “I’ve always maintained that it isn’t the form that’s going to make the difference. It isn’t the rule or the procedure or the ideology, but it’s human beings that will make it.”

César Chávez’s words ring true today, and during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place from September 15 to October 15, we celebrate the impact that Hispanics have made to the very fabric of our nation’s history.

And as HHS works toward transforming our health system to one that puts consumers at the center of their care, we’re promoting outreach methods to expand care within the Hispanic community, such as working with promotores de salud.

Promotores de salud are community health workers who educate members of their community about the programs, services and resources that are available to them in order to make better, more informed decisions about their family’s health. As trusted members of their community who share similar cultural backgrounds and speak the same language, promotores de salud work with individuals and communities to understand how culture, language and lifestyles contribute to their health decisions.

Through the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, we are supporting efforts by promotores de salud, our Office of Minority Health and the Promotores de Salud Steering Committee, to help teach communities about ways to keep us and our loved ones healthy. This means a focus on wellness visits and other important services like cancer screenings. It means promoting heart health and helping connect people to the resources they need to prevent and manage chronic diseases, like diabetes, which are still more prevalent among Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites. Promotores de salud are helping to improve the health of the communities they serve.

The tradition of promotores de salud is based on the idea that health isn’t just about tests and pills. It comes from a holistic approach to health that meets people where they are, and recognizes the value of sharing healthy habits and creating healthy environments to generate better health decisions and outcomes.

Today, we know that despite enormous progress, Hispanics are still more likely to be uninsured than any other racial or ethnic group. Furthermore, they suffer from chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes and cervical cancer at disproportionately high levels.

As we look to transform our nation’s health care system into one that works for all Americans, we want to put individuals at the center of their care. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’re making progress.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, about 17.6 million uninsured people have gained health coverage, including 4.0 million Hispanics. For the Hispanic community, the rate of uninsurance has dropped by 11.5 percentage points. That means that there are now more Hispanics that can see their clinician on a routine basis, get treated early for the onset of a chronic disease, or seek emergency care that is affordable and of high quality.

And with new protections, coverage is now better for everyone, no matter where you buy your insurance. Preventive services at no extra cost, like annual checkups, certain cancer screenings, and vaccinations, can go a long way toward closing the health gap that still persists in the Hispanic community.

Hispanic families across the country now have the security that comes with health coverage. They can rest a little easier at night, because they know a sickness or an accident won’t bankrupt them or their family.

But there’s still more to do. Open Enrollment is less than one month away, when individuals can shop for new insurance on the Marketplace or find a plan that better fits their families’ needs. And as more Americans get covered, we have to make sure they know how to use that coverage as well, by connecting with providers and taking advantage of their benefits.

This National Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s all agree to be the human beings that César Chávez called on to make a difference, by spreading the word about where Hispanic families can go to obtain affordable coverage and learning about and using new benefits that can keep us all healthier.

The next Open Enrollment begins November 1 and runs through January 31, 2016.

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You can also find assistance in your own community at, or calling 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325). Operators are standing by, day or night, in Spanish and in English.TWEET THIS: "During #HHM2015, we celebrate the impact that Hispanics have made to the very fabric of our nation’s history → via @HHSgov"