Education and access are the focus of a new TTUHSC El Paso public health initiative
Soon after returning to El Paso from Houston to join Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso as an assistant professor of immunology and microbiology, Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., was thrust into the public health chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a passionate educator and public health advocate, she embraced her new role by creating the El Paso Health Education and Awareness Team (EP-HEAT) at TTUHSC El Paso. The public health initiative brings together faculty and students from all schools to provide education for the community. The team presents virtual and in-person health fairs for residents in the Paso del Norte region, with a particular focus on neighborhoods in the 79905 ZIP code.
“79905 is home to our campus, and we should be a lead resource in partnering alongside our community to improve the lives of those in our local neighborhoods,” said Dr. Chacon.
EP-HEAT also works with promotores in the university’s Promotores de Salud community health worker program to address vaccine hesitancy and provide COVID-19 educational resources to families. Their combined efforts have garnered over $200,000 in corporate and foundation support in 2021 from Microsoft, Albertsons and the Meadows Foundation.
Summer 2021 proved busy for the EP-HEAT team. June saw the launch of Microsoft-sponsored computer literacy training and upskilling pathways aimed at connecting 79905 residents with online health resources and employability opportunities, and closing the digital divide.
In July, Hunt School of Nursing students helped El Paso County Emergency Services and constables administer 4,200 COVID-19 vaccines to maquiladora workers. Then by the end of August, EP-HEAT had distributed $10,000 worth of Albertsons grocery gift cards to local families in need.
Throughout this time, EP-HEAT has encouraged the community to be vaccinated for COVID-19 – an undertaking many students valued in their journey to becoming future health care heroes.
“I love the field work,” said Kei Takigawa, a third-year Foster School of Medicine student and EP-HEAT team member. “I love attending educational events across the city and encouraging the community to take strides toward improving their personal health. I don’t assume the entire community has the same information as our team, so I try to connect with others, respect their beliefs and understand that people value different ideas. When promoting COVID-19 vaccines, I explain that new variants are ‘keys’ that COVID-19 can use to enter our bodies. A vaccine is a ‘strong, powerful lock’ that makes it difficult for COVID-19 to break in!”
EP-HEAT’s work will continue in the fall with ongoing health education fairs and computer literacy tutoring. They’ve presented bilingual COVID-19 health education fairs to almost 1,500 members of the El Paso community, with goals of creating bilingual COVID-19 care packages for El Pasoans who lack access to internet and computers. The team has also impacted others with their leadership by offering virtual health fairs to universities across the U.S., including the University of Pennsylvania last October.
For Dr. Chacon, working with locals and like-minded organizations is key to a healthier future for El Paso.
“Our partnerships are keeping families healthy and armed with resources to improve their quality of life.”
Check out our photo gallery of EP-HEAT activities: