May 25, 2022
“You shouldn’t do it for an additional line on your resume, but to connect and champion those who need it the most and provide critical feedback for folks who need it the most.”
Ricardo A. Garay serves as a program manager for the community engagement and health equity team under the Department of Population Health. He also serves as a facilitator for Dell Medical School’s Community Strategy Team and serves as an advocate for community health workers in Central Texas.
Garay was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and became interested in health disparities and community organizing at a young age. His lived-in experience as an immigrant has informed his approach toward health equity and project design. He also continues to participate in community events and social justice initiatives to enhance his perspective on social determinants of health.
Prior to joining Dell Med, he led an international patient navigation program called Health Network at the Migrant Clinicians Network. His team worked to establish continuity of care for patients in more than 110 countries around the world for both acute and chronic health conditions. The program was awarded the Monroe E. Trout prize and the United States-Mexico Border Commission’s Border Models of Excellence award for patient-centered care in mobile populations. Locally, he participated in Community Advancement Network’s Community Council, Central Health’s Community Health Champions, Austin Independent School District’s UpClose Academy and Ending Community Homelessness Coalition’s Point In Time Count planning workgroup.
Garay is certified by the Texas Department of State Health Services as a community health worker instructor. In addition to being a Community Health Champion, he serves as a board member at the National Association of Community Health Workers and the Texas Association of Promotores and Community Health Workers. He also serves on the Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission for the City of Austin.
Q: What made you want to become a Community Health Champion?
A: My interest in joining this program was to learn about the programs and services provided by Central Health. I really wanted to get a better understanding of their network, their mission, their values and also learn more about health initiatives in Central Texas in general. That’s really what drew me in initially.
Q: How was the experience of being a Community Health Champion compared to your expectations?
A: That’s a really good question because I thought I got a lot of the program because I invested in learning and connecting with the group. I also appreciated the fact that participating allowed me to ask difficult questions and engage in really complicated conversations and engage in conversations about health equity in an honest and robust way. I was really surprised that those conversations were celebrated and that this was a space where those discussions were possible.
Q: Was there anything interesting or surprising about your experience?
A: One of the things that was interesting to me was to be able to connect to other community leaders who were also invested and committed to learn more, in a humble way, about health disparities, about health equity, about the history of healthcare in Austin. I was really surprised that there were very meaningful connections, to this day, that I was able to make in that cohort. It was very interesting to meet folks who cared just as much as I did about some of these issues.
Q: What did you gain personally from your experience?
A: I think the biggest gain that I got was a network of folks who are doing this work and a network of trust and better understanding of healthcare, and different projects and initiatives. Being a part of this group was something that was very powerful to me. I was also appreciative that some of my feedback was incorporated into future sessions. For example, the health equity training that these cohorts now receive is a recommendation that I had made, and I’m so glad that Central Health committed to that health equity training to these cohorts moving forward. I think that’s incredibly valuable to have that common language of some of these discussions as to what has happened in Central Texas.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a Community Health Champion?
A: I would say to commit to the program, to commit to building connections to provide better services to people that need it the most in Central Texas. I think it’s really important to ask about structural questions and engage in difficult and courageous conversations. You shouldn’t do it for an additional line on your resume, but to connect and champion those who need it the most and provide critical feedback for folks who need it the most. I think having an equity lens is incredibly important to join, I think having an anti-racist perspective is also an important thing to bring to the table, and just a general commitment to serve a general community.
Q: How did being a Community Health Champion influence your work for healthcare equity?
A: It has made me understand different systems in Central Texas, how they work. It has also given me a better understanding of some of the barriers and challenges, but also some of the opportunities that lie in front of us. I think that being able to spend time with colleagues who do this work has also helped me connect and create solidarity within the work they are doing and being able to link up and better serve patients the most.
I’m excited to where this is going and I really think Central Health is doing a good thing with having a group like this meet and celebrate. My experience was very positive.
Community Health Champions is an annual Central Health program that brings together diverse community members from across Travis County to learn about, discuss, and collaborate on our work to improve the health of Central Texas.
Through a five-month workshop series, participants learn about the healthcare system for Travis County residents with low income and how Central Health and its partners come together to address health disparities.
Health Champions are challenged to think outside of their individual realities to become advocates for healthcare access and equity in their own communities.
Enrollment is Now Open Through June 15, 2022. Learn more at communityhealthchampions.net.