BAHI Fellow Leads Centro SOL to Address Latinx Health Care Inequity

June 7, 2023 by Renee Fischer

Advocacy, training, and programming aid the immigrant community

A combination of factors — like stigma, fear, immigration status, lack of information, cultural norms, insurance eligibility, and government policies — create a complex landscape in terms of accessible health care for the immigrant community in Maryland and beyond.

And with immigration largely fueling the increase in Baltimore’s Latinx population, the need for equity in health care in the city has grown accordingly.

Founded in 2013 by the physician-led Hopkins Organization for Latino Awareness, Johns Hopkins Centro SOL — a center for health and opportunities for Latinxs — addresses these issues through advocacy, educational outreach, research, and community-centered programming.

“These were passionate, caring, and dedicated physicians who saw the need in the clinical setting for this population that they didn’t know much about,” says Monica Guerrero Vazquez, BSPH ’18 (MPH), referring to the doctors who spearheaded the founding of the center which she joined at its inception.

For Guerrero Vazquez, whose family immigrated from Ecuador to Spain before she came to America, the mission hits close to home.

“I’m an immigrant. I’m a daughter of immigrants, and many of the barriers that we have encountered in my life are the same barriers that the families we serve are struggling with,” Guerrero Vazquez says.

The center’s ongoing work includes leading culturally sensitive training for Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health students; mentoring local youth and introducing them to careers in health care; holding larger community health education events; and conducting research like a recent study on mental health which informed the “Stigma” campaign that has reached 90,000 people in 14 countries online.

Seed money for Centro SOL came from the Aaron Straus and Lillie Straus Foundation, and the multi-year research for the Stigma campaign was supported by the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Charitable Foundation. Guerrero Vazquez herself benefitted as an inaugural Bloomberg American Health Initiative (BAHI) fellow in 2017, an opportunity that allowed her to earn her master’s degree in public health and which she describes as life changing.

“I’ve had this fire in my chest to find my place in the world. I was looking for that place, and finally BAHI came,” Guerrero Vazquez says. “I officially became a public health professional, and that has changed the perspective of how I do things now — with a data-driven, evidenced-based, and also culturally centered, community-centered focus.”

“The fellowship has definitely shaped my career development for now and forever,” she says, stressing her work is about partnerships on many levels with physicians who are on Centro SOL’s faculty, with policymakers and advocacy organizations, and with church groups and community members.

“When working around equity, you cannot do the work alone or without collaborating with people you’re trying to serve. Health equity is not just about a model that you build in your computer; it’s about getting dirty, loading boxes, cleaning spaces, working off-hours, and crying sometimes when you hear sad stories from families,” Guerrero Vazquez says.

One victory came in 2022 as Centro SOL advocated for Maryland’s Healthy Babies Equity Act which passed last summer and will provide prenatal care regardless of immigration status. The legislation will also benefit mothers dealing with post-partum depression.

“The obstacles for the Latino population can come from a broad spectrum of discriminatory policies, that come from the federal level, like undocumented immigrants cannot access healthcare insurance,” Guerrero Vazquez explains.

“The Healthy Babies Equity Act is very exciting, and we are full of hope for the future of how our state policies are going to set the tone of what the federal policies should look like,” she says.

Make Your Gift

Want to support the Bloomberg American Health Initiative?

Topics: Bloomberg School of Public Health, Promote and Protect Health, Strengthening Partnerships, Support Scholars