World traveler helps patients manage health decisions

Care coordinator learned from multicultural, global experiences

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter



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• • •

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April Haydon’s quest to understand the big picture of public health has sent her from Wyoming to Corvallis, Ore., from Chile to Spain to Guatemala. And then, at last, to Clark County.

Overseas, she witnessed the strength of old-world family ties as well as widespread unemployment and postwar fear and trauma. In the modern U.S., she’s seen deep social isolation — despite an enviable standard of living — and such illnesses as diabetes and cancer.

“Every culture has its own wealth of knowledge and its own ways of doing things,” she said. “Every society has its positives and negatives.”

Haydon, 27, recently was named a Community Champion by Molina Healthcare of Washington, and given a $1,000 grant to regift to the charity of her choice; she chose Lutheran Community Services in Vancouver. She won the award for the dedication and spark she brought to her two-year tenure as a HealthCorps intern at Sea Mar Community Health Clinics, a statewide nonprofit company that caters to low-income Latinos. HealthCorps, a branch of the nationwide AmeriCorps service program, aims to bring health care to needy people while training the next generation of health care workers along the way.

Now Haydon is a full-time care coordinator at Sea Mar. She works at its office at the Center for Community Health building on Fourth Plain, where she assesses incoming patients and figures out their next steps. As she does that, she’s always considering the underlying social factors — education and socioeconomic status, neighborhood environment, access to quality food and health care — that can push people down healthy or unhealthy pathways in life.

“It’s all connected. No one’s at fault,” she said. “We all makes choices. We’re all at where we’re at. How do we go forward?”

Fun with Spanish

Haydon was raised by well-off, professional parents in rural Idaho and then touristy Jackson, Wyo. — which instilled in her a sense of security and a feel for obviously different folks who come from far away.

When she acquired a Mexican “little sister” on her school soccer team, she said, her natural gregariousness and her talent for language came together. As a college student at Oregon State University, she went on a six-month study-abroad program in Chile; upon her return, she realized that she felt most at home with the Spanish-speaking students from overseas or south of the border. She found their culture more positive, more familial and less excessive, frankly, than that of most native-born undergraduates, she said.

Plus, while in Chile she’d fallen in love with salsa dancing.

She kept opting to study abroad. In Spain, a friend bound for medical school helped her realize that while she didn’t want to be a doctor or nurse, she was fascinated with the idea of public health. In Guatemala, Haydon worked in a health clinic for the poor. She evaluated incoming patients, led educational workshops on topics like nutrition and hygiene, worked behind the scenes in the pharmacy and shadowed a midwife.

Next was a free clinic in Albany, Ore. Finally, her degree from OSU in hand (Spanish major, public health minor), she accepted the challenge of what are essentially poverty wages — and food stamps — while interning through HealthCorps at Sea Mar. Pay was low but rewards rich nonetheless, she said, as she was given the freedom to design her own projects and programs. She taught healthy cooking and lead “grocery guidance” field trips to the supermarket to study nutrition labels and analyze prices; she lead walking groups at the mall and aerobics sessions that featured the Spanish-language pop favorites of her clients.

Her exercise groups grew from handfuls to dozens, she said, and in addition to having a great effect on their health, Haydon realized she’d made friends for life. They still go dancing in Portland together, she said, and they’ve all gathered for that quintessentially American occasion: watching the Super Bowl.

But after two years, Haydon decided it was time to move onward and upward. Sea Mar, on the other hand, decided it couldn’t let her go. She was hired as a full-time care coordinator.

“It’s been such a beautiful story, the way this has all come together for me,” she said.

Options, attitudes

Social worker, health educator, therapist, screener — Haydon’s job as care coordinator combines all these roles. Sexual trauma, reproductive health, diabetes and obesity, mental illness — she regularly helps people without insurance handle all these things, she said.

Often that means in-house services, but sometimes it means sending people to other clinics or scrambling finding them other resources.

“Especially when it comes to psychiatry, their options are so limited,” she said.

Meanwhile, Haydon’s twin brother and his wife now live near Toronto, where they pay extremely high taxes — and get good health care, lavish family leave (the family has a new baby) and many other public benefits that the U.S. doesn’t provide, she said.

In other countries she’s visited, she said, people take to the streets when society’s deal doesn’t feel fair; here in the USA, she said, people tend to blame themselves and buckle down to work twice as hard. “We are very individualistic,” she said.

Meanwhile food stamps were “hugely cut” as part of an end to Great Recession stimulus funding at the end of last year, she noted. That only compounds the problem of people on a budget eating lower-quality foods — full of habit-forming fats, sugars and starches — because they’re less expensive and more convenient than higher-quality nutritious foods.

“A lot of people do want to make changes in their diets and their lives,” Haydon said, “but it’s just not that easy.”

April Haydon

April Haydon, a care coordinator with Sea Mar Community Health Clinics, talks about her love for dance and Latino culture.