NCHEC is extremely proud of the many health CHES® and MCHES® who serve as essential personnel in many different sectors across the US. Health Education Specialists have assumed critical roles in the identification, control, and assurance of the needs of individuals and communities. They advocate fiercely for public protection measures, and support many other critical health education and health behavior measures. As our nation continues to move forward in addressing and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of a competent certified health education workforce is as significant and essential as ever before.
The following interview is part of a new series to highlight the remarkable work efforts of our credential-holders.
Name: Jerome Viloria, MPH, CHES®
Job Title: Project Connect Coordinator
Career Sector: Healthcare/Non-profit
Years’ Experience: 3.5
NCHEC: What is your current job title and where do you work?
Jerome: My job title is Project Coordinator for the Apicha Community Health Center in New York. I develop and implement programming for the Asian/Pacific Islander (API) LGBTQ+ population of New York City, focusing on health, wellness, and community engagement. This population is historically underserved and otherised. I coordinate social media presence, a mentorship initiative, support groups, health education workshops, youth development (leadership training and advisory board), cultural sensitivity workshops for health providers, and link clients to medical and supportive services.
NCHEC: How has your role as Project Connect Coordinator changed as a result of COVID-19?
Jerome: To align with CDC and NYS DOH recommendations, I transitioned all facets of my program to online means, utilizing Zoom for live-streamed workshops, educational sessions, and client check-ins. A larger emphasis was placed on social media outreach to continuously promote linkage to Apicha CHC services.
NCHEC: Can you give an example of how you and your organization are providing health services to your community?
Jerome: I've hosted virtual health education workshops focused on the mental health burden imposed by COVID-19, as well as support groups and healing spaces to address racial justice, particular to anti-Asian violence, anti-Blackness, and how API folks can engage in the fight for equity. We have produced live-streamed webinars on health benefits such as pandemic unemployment assistance, health insurance enrollment, and SNAP enrollment for folks who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
To foster a deeper sense of community, my program (Project Connect) hosted cooking therapy sessions to explore racial/ethnic identity through food. In our mentorship initiative called GAYME, we engaged in discussions surrounding coming out, queer identity, relationship dynamics, and mental health stigma using Zoom as a safe space away within non-affirming home environments. This is especially important during a time of social and physical isolation.
At the agency level, I have facilitated COVID-19 testing and vaccination events in tandem with HIV/STI screenings based on community need.
NCHEC: Have you experienced positive change or strides made in public health/community health over the past year?
Jerome: Yes, with the increase of social media as a vehicle to promote ongoing medical and supportive services at Apicha CHC and at other healthcare organisations. Social media has largely contributed to the increase in COVID-19 vaccination rates, and has driven forward the conversation on eliminating stigma against mental and sexual health.
NCHEC: Have you seen an increased recognition of the role of the health education specialist since the onset of the pandemic?
Jerome: My director has specifically looked to me for inspiration in revamping our community outreach strategy and new program ideas, as I am a CHES® and an MPH graduate. More opportunities to grow at my agency have arrived, in which I am creating educational material for patients and staff regarding Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and reconceptualising an LGBT center.
NCHEC: What advice do you have for newly certified health education specialists ready to enter the current work force?
Jerome: There has never been a better time to uphold and promote the profession of being a Certified Health Education Specialist. It is our responsibility to provide evidence-based information to the people and dispel baseless claims against science.
To the emerging young professionals: this is OUR time to utilize our skills and take to social media to continuously educate the masses on accessing human resource benefits like rental assistance, health insurance, and SNAP. Using platforms like Canva and Hubspot to curate social media campaigns is an excellent way to deliver bite-sized information without drowning our audience in jargon. Create attention-grabbing Tiktok and Instagram posts that will generate curiosity in learning more. To the seasoned professionals: let us, the youth, amplify your work with our technical skillsets. In turn, impart your knowledge from years of experience to continuously improve best-practices. Be open to constructive feedback and new information, because things are constantly being updated.