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Lay Health Advisors: A Coalition Initiative

The purpose of the project, “Latino Lay Health Advisors: A Coalition Initiative,” is to educate the Latino community to improve medical literacy and avoid overutilization of acute care settings, such as emergency rooms. Focus areas for the grant are diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other related health problems as well as health care access. The grant was awarded by the N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund as part of one of its major health initiatives, the Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative. Dr.  Jorge Calles-Escandón, M.D., is an associate professor of internal medicine and principal investigator of the LHA project.

Designed in conjunction with the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the project aims to empower key leaders in Latino religious communities to become health educators. Religious leaders were chosen because a significant percentage of the Latino population participates in religious services and has an ingrained respect for religious figures. The candidates trained as lay health advisors (LHAs) will be identified by each of the partner denominations or ministries of this project. They will receive a total of 60 hours of training over three months at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

A structured curriculum will be created to educate the LHAs and provide them with the tools necessary to provide health education in the language and style most suitable to their communities. The curriculum will present information about the most prevalent diseases affecting the state’s Latino population and key issues related to the health care system in the United States such as access, utilization of the system and preventative medicine issues. Major subjects covered by the curriculum include obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia (overproduction or deficiency of lipids in the blood), Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Faculty and students at the School of Medicine will support these efforts by providing basic medical services for screening and testing of common diseases that affect Latinos.

Partner congregations will be asked to nominate 2-3 candidates (2 +1 backup) to be trained as Lay Health Advisors as well as provide space for the LHAs to conduct the education sessions for each church. We would also ask for a representative of each partner church to participate in our sustainability board, which will help us develop ways of continuing to support the program after the three years of grant funding is complete. 

First Graduation Ceremony - April 16, 2010

The first Lay Health Advisor graduation ceremony was held April 16, 2010 at  Davis Chapel at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston Salem, NC.   Dr. Jorge Calles, Rev. Sharon Engebretson,  Rev. Francis Rivers, and Dr. Rita Pirchardo-Geisinger participated in the program as well as special guest speaker Dr. Ronny Bell, Director of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity.  Ten Lay Health Advisors received their training certificates presented by  the traning team that consisted of  Dr. Calles, Rev. Rivers, Dr. Pichardo, Jaimie Hunter, Sarah Langdon and Winona Gilbert.  Dinner followed with family and friends.             


Dr. CallesGraduation Picture 1  Graduation Picture 2




Article about the LHA program as seen in Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, Sports Illlustrated and The Week  - February, 2010.



The community health education classes are currently being conducted by the LHAs in their respective churches. Evaluation of community knowledge has been conducted at baseline (pre-class participation), and will also be assessed at 3-, 6- and 12-months post participation. Representatives of each partner church also participate in our sustainability board, which is working to develop ways of continuing to support the program after the three years of grant funding is complete.


Last Updated: 10-03-2016
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