Since the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2020 Daemen College health promotion graduate has been working on the frontlines as a community health worker connecting Western New York residents with health care and other services.
Ashley Giaquinto of Buffalo started in her role at Neighborhood Health Center last fall as she was completing her health promotion degree at Daemen. With the onset of the coronavirus outbreak only a few months into her professional career, she has been experiencing first-hand the challenges in continuing outreach and providing needed services while facing a public health crisis.
“As with many other area organizations, Neighborhood Health Center has been greatly affected by COVID-19,” said Giaquinto, who was recruited for her position at a Daemen Career and Internship Expo. “The situation is constantly changing and under the guidance of our community health supervisor and director of public health, we have adjusted our operations to best serve our patients. In the interest of safety, one of the biggest changes for outreach workers has been suspending home visits.”
Traditionally, direct patient contact is a key part of Giaquinto’s position as a community health worker. In this role, she assists patients with continuity of care and is an intermediary between health care services and social and community support. She is also responsible for building rapport with community partners, raising awareness about Neighborhood Health Center’s services, providing health education, and advocating for community health needs.
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of Giaquinto’s position, including following the Centers for Disease Control’s protocols on extended face mask use and the Neighborhood Health Center transitioning from a traditional health care delivery system to telehealth video conferencing.
“During a public health crisis, there is limited time to adjust to changes required to meet community health and safety needs,” said Giaquinto, a native of Little Falls. “I applaud the Neighborhood Health Center for quickly adopting to the technology and successfully transitioning to telemedicine so that we may continue to provide a high level of care.”
Despite facing many challenges because of COVID-19, Giaquinto has found hope in the kindness, compassion, and support from the community.
“A local child who recently gave me a cloth face mask with several superheroes on it told me that every Neighborhood Health Center worker should have a mask with their own picture on it because we are all heroes,” said Giaquinto. “We are just doing our jobs but in the eyes of a child we have the capacity to overcome this together. That message has really resonated with me.”
Justine Tutuska, program director of health promotion at Daemen, pointed out that the degree is designed to prepare students to actively engage in community health and disease prevention efforts, provide health education, serve as a resource to the community, and direct and evaluate community health projects.
“The coronavirus pandemic clearly demonstrates how crucial an infrastructure position, like the one held by Ashley, is in fighting a public health crisis,” said Tutuska. “Through our program, Ashley developed the core skills and competencies needed to step right into her position and to help our community navigate through this pandemic.”
For Giaquinto, she credits her Daemen health promotion degree and her experience as a community health worker during a global pandemic for reinforcing her commitment to public health.
“During this crisis, the Neighborhood Health Center has remained committed to ensuring our patients continue to have access to the care needed to properly manage chronic illnesses and diseases,” she said. “I am amazed at the resiliency of our entire team of community health workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. This experience and my Daemen education has reinforced my dedication to public health and fueled my desire to further my education to gain advanced knowledge in the field.”