My Job Is Helping Patients Access Health and Social Services

Community health care professional Airleen Lucero works on the front line of medicine: outreach and education.
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Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Name: Airleen Lucero
Age: 65
Job: Community Healthcare Worker


Beginnings: Airleen Lucero has been active in public service for decades, including as a community outreach worker, in peace education programs for Wai‘anae Coast schools and on the boards of community groups like the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and the Nānākuli Hawaiian Homestead Community Association.

Latest Role: Lucero is now a community health worker with Hawai‘i Health Partners, an accountable care organization and subsidiary of Hawai‘i Pacific Health, which also runs hospitals such as Straub, Kapi‘olani and Pali Momi. Accountable care organizations provide coordinated care to groups of patients, such as those on Medicare, usually with a broader focus than just traditional health care.

Practical Help: Community health workers have been around since the 1960s in America, but their role has increased in recent years as research indicates their work improves health outcomes and reduces overall costs.

Lucero works one-on-one with patients on a wide range of things. For instance, she often helps them apply for government assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the successor to food stamps) and Medicaid – processes that her patients might otherwise struggle with.

She also helps them schedule health care appointments and informs them of what’s happening throughout the health care process. And she says she loves giving her patients the tools to help themselves.

“Give them access and empower them to become managers of their own care, once they know their diseases and how it affects their lives.”

Challenges: After spending weeks or months with a patient, it’s difficult to move on when the time comes. It’s especially tough to see patients who are withering away. “The misconception is we’ll be together forever, but it’s not a ‘forever’ program.”

Successes: Her challenges often come with hope. One of her priorities is helping veterans receive health care and financial aid through the Department of Veteran Affairs. After she helps them complete paperwork, they often receive benefits like health insurance and long-term care.

Many of Lucero’s patients are extremely ill, yet they share laughs and tell stories. The bonds they create often stay strong even after her assistance ends.

Covid: The pandemic added another level of stress and responsibilities for community health workers, as with so many health care workers. Some community health workers became contact tracers, while Lucero’s team focused on communications – often in new ways. The benefits of that work continue today.

Local Ties: Lucero is a mother of five from Nānākuli who loves her community, which she says helps her relate to her patients and truly understand them. And she stresses the importance of listening – both to her patients’ needs and her peers’ advice.

“It is a joy. I love it. I think all community health workers have that kind of compassion to make sure they break barriers that a lot of families face.”



Categories: Careers, Health & Wellness