As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month this September 15 to October 15, we celebrate the culture and contributions of our Latino/a communities across Massachusetts. As a leader integrating food security into health care, Project Bread is proud to showcase the work of the healthcare workers serving our communities.
Project Bread had the opportunity to connect with Lizzy Ortiz, a Latina and Community Health Worker and Care Partner at Community Care Cooperative (C3) working with clients at Springfield Health Services for the Homeless.
Lizzy Ortiz has worked in human services for over 30 years. She is a proud Latina from Puerto Rico, and has worked in state agencies, schools, hospitals, and nonprofits. Her cultural competency and professional expertise gives her a deep insight – and opportunity – to serve clients who may otherwise not receive the proper care and attention they need.
Lizzy serves clients admitted to hospitals and care centers and talks to nurses and healthcare providers to learn what services her clients need. She directs her clients to programs for nutrition assistance, housing, mental health counseling, and substance abuse programs.
Springfield’s population is 47% Latino/a. Some of the health risks within Latino/a communities are high levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, along with a higher risk of diabetes. These communities need access to culturally appropriate education on how to manage these risks, as well as guidance in locating affordable food.
Lizzy understands the challenge of families living in a food desert – an area of no food or poor quality food – which too frequently plagues Latino/a neighborhoods.
“The bodega is close by,” Lizzy said, “but it is 2 or 3 times the cost of food at the Price Rite or Market Basket. The location of affordable foods is important.”
She also understands how important cooking skills and lessons are to a healthy diet. “McDonalds offers French fries for $1 versus buying the potato and cooking it. Some people don’t have the capacity or skills to know what to cook.”
Lizzy sees how important it is to find the right solutions to the problems her clients face. “The education piece is missing. Not just giving a gift card but educating them on how to lower their blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol. Education in many languages and where that information is available is important. Like signs on the bus while you are waiting and riding the bus.”
Project Bread is proud to pilot our Healthcare Partnerships Program, where we offer a variety of resources to select MassHealth members with health issues. We offer nutrition education, cooking classes, and cooking equipment in addition to many other services, and we are seeing incredible results. Read report on how our program is improving patient food security
Lizzy’s experience in serving Latino/a clients gives her a unique perspective on her own heritage.
“We come in with a flavor of all people, we have all shapes and sizes. From color, height, bodyweight, we bring in a lot of sazon, a lot of flavors. We bring the rhythm and music in ourselves and the morals and values we gain. The biggest teacher is life. You learn from friends and family and schools and media; you take a little of each other and mix it together.”
She also acknowledges the vast disparities in just outcomes for our neighbors of different ethnicities:
“I just spoke with a patient on the phone who is overweight, and he is going to be discharged and sent back to the streets. His criminal record in the past follows him and is a huge challenge to put [his] life back together."
"Most of the people in jail are people of color. Once you get out of jail, how do you put your life back together? Inequality and racism exist,” Lizzy notes.
Lizzy celebrated her roots and culture as a committee member for the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade that took place on Sunday, September 18th.
Lizzy participates in the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade every year and knows it is “an exciting and proud moment for us. This is the community that I work in and serve.”
In her more than 30 years of work, Lizzy shared some important advice with Project Bread. “A vacation is important. You work hard and you need to take a vacation. I tell my sons don’t wait until you are 70 and 80 years old. Don’t wait until you’re older to enjoy life.”
Project Bread wishes the absolute best for Lizzy, including many more vacations and more celebrations during Hispanic Heritage Month.