Promoviendo la Salud
Promoting health, and more, in Archuleta County

In some Spanish-speaking cultures, when someone sneezes several times in succession, it is customary to bless them by saying “Salud!” for the first sneeze, “Dinero!” for the second and “Amor!” for the third (“Health!,” “Money!,” “Love!”).

The order of the blessings seems like a logical one, because without health nothing else matters much. Luckily, for Latinos or Hispanic people living in Pagosa, there is a program designed to promote this most important element of a well-lived life.

Promoviendo la Salud is non-profit program of the San Juan Basin Health Department that seeks to improve the health, and reduce health inequalities, among Latino adults in Archuleta and La Plata counties.

It has long been known by professionals in the health field that people from minority populations in the United States experience higher rates of certain diseases than their white counterparts. Promoviendo la Salud was created to address these health disparities specifically among the Latino population of our area.

The program offers education on specific health issues, suggestions on how to reduce the risk of chronic disease, referrals for where to access medical care, and support in dealing with health problems. But the program goes far beyond clinical visits and medical advice. Participants of the program are invited to cooking classes, fun exercise and dance classes, special health fairs, parties, apple-picking outings and more. Most of these programs are offered free of charge; for some activities, San Juan Basin Health asks for a suggested donation.

According to the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2003, the diabetes death rate for Hispanics/Latinos was 1.6 times higher than for non-Hispanic whites. In men ages 20-74 years, Mexican Americans had a higher prevalence of being overweight and of obesity.

From 1998-2002, Hispanic/Latina women had an incidence rate for cancers of the cervix that was 1.8 times higher than that for white women. During the same period of time, Hispanics/Latinas also had a cervical cancer death rate that was 1.4 times higher than for white women.

Additionally, the CDC reported that in 2003, 34.7 percent of Hispanics/Latinos under age 65 lacked health care coverage, compared with 11.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and about 16.5 percent of the total population. Hispanic/Latina women were 1.8 times more likely to have late or no prenatal care than white women.

The CDC identified that some of the factors that contribute to these unequal health outcomes among Hispanics include language and cultural barriers, lack of access to preventive care, and lack of health insurance.

To address these and other disparities, Promoviendo la Salud specifically targets adult Latino residents of Archuleta and La Plata county with messages about how to reduce their the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cervical and breast cancer. The goal of the program is to empower Latinos with the important health information they need to keep themselves and their families healthy.

“They helped my husband and I to lower our cholesterol and high blood pressure,” said a three-year participant of the program, Angela Ibarra. “They also helped us lose weight and better our nutrition. It’s a very, very good program,” Ibarra told The SUN.

According to the San Juan Basin Health Department, Promoviendo is a promotora-based program. Promotoras are bi-lingual, bi-cultural members of the community who have special training in health promotion. They offer education on specific health issues, suggestions on how to reduce your risk for chronic disease, referrals for where to access medical care, and support in dealing with health problems. Promotoras can do small group presentations, or meet with clients one-on-one, to address health concerns. Here in Archuleta County, the Promoviendo promotora is Sandra Gnos.

In addition to the services the promotoras provide, Promoviendo offers adult health screening clinics throughout the year. These screenings are an opportunity to check blood pressure, get weighed, and have a blood test for cholesterol and glucose (blood sugar).  Knowing your blood glucose and cholesterol levels is the first step in assessing the risk for diabetes or heart disease. The next screening open to any adult Latino is set for the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 28, at the San Juan Basin Health Department. Anyone can come to the screening, but the screenings are offered in particular for those people with any kind of Hispanic or Latino heritage.

An initial screening is what helped Matilde Villalobos to get her health on a better track. “A year ago I had very high blood pressure,” she said. After following the advice of the promotoras, Villalobos reported that her blood pressure is now down to normal levels.

This year, Promoviendo, has stepped up their services to include a further dimension of care. Eligible clients needing additional follow-up may be referred to Promoviendo’s own chronic disease management clinic.  Clinic appointments are reserved for clients without insurance, who are unable to access care elsewhere.  Clinic services include a consult and exam with a physician or physician assistant, medication management and any necessary lab work.  A small fee is charged for each clinic visit. 

In addition to these elements, there is a more delicious side to the Promoviendo program. According to a three-year participant of Promoviendo, Yolanda Campuzano, Sandy Gnos is going above and beyond her promotora duties. “She is a very active promotora,” said Campuzano. “She organizes many, many activities and classes.” These include healthy cooking classes, where participants learn to make new recipes as well as their favorite recipes substituting more nutritious ingredients than the original recipe called for.

“I’m eating more healthily than before. I drink a lot of water and in my recipes I use olive oil instead of butter or lard and not too much flour, and I always add a lot of vegetables,” said Promoviendo participant Rocio Diaz.

Last week, the cooking class delved into the world of apple recipes. They pressed apple cider, made apple pie, apple crisp and more.

The reason for all these apple dishes? Lots of apples, of course. Last week, about seven Promoviendo participants carpooled to Durango to pick apples at an orchard there. They returned home with an abundant bounty of red and green apples to use in making delectable, high fiber goodies.

There is always something fun and new going on with Promoviendo la Salud. In addition to cooking classes and outings, the program has offered exercise classes, Salsa dancing and other types of dance classes, and big fiestas for lots of occasions. Maybe a more apt name for the program would be “Promoviendo la Salud y la Diversión” (“Promoting Health and Fun”).

For more information about how you or someone you know can get involved in the Promoviendo program, or to learn more about the upcoming health screening on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at the San Juan Basin Health Department, call Sandy Gnos at      759-9913. You can also visit the San Juan Basin Health Department online at