Liss Idrovo-Perdomo felt “blessed” to work for many years as a Spanish language interpreter, accompanying Twin Cities families to medical visits and school appointments. But the job required her to be a neutral observer. “I could not advocate [for families] as much as I wanted to,” said the mother of two school-aged children. “I felt like I needed to help.” Today, Idrovo-Perdomo, 34, is a full-time resource navigator for Community Connect, an initiative of the Children’s Minnesota health care system partly funded by a grant from Kohl’s Cares. Now happily advocating for families, Idrovo-Perdomo tells us more about her role and how her own upbringing drew her to this work.
Q: What sets Community Connect apart from other programs?
A: We go beyond basic medical care to support the social determinants of health impacting kids. We connect families to a broad range of existing families resources, including housing, food, child care, adult education, transportation and legal partnerships. Since 2017, we’ve served 5,200 families. Nearly 90% of participants surveyed said the program improved their family’s health and well-being.
Q: How has COVID impacted your work?
A: It’s different when you’re sitting face-to-face with a family. You can read their facial expressions or look at the kiddos and have a more compassionate interaction. We talk on the phone but if they’re crying we’re not able to hold their hand and we’re losing a little bit of that warm physical human touch. That was one of the biggest things that differentiated us from other clinics. Due to COVID, we rely on technology a lot, but this is an example of how resilient and determined we are to help these families. COVID has not stopped us. We are listening, we make sure families know we are still here for them and, thanks to technology, we are literally a text away.
Q: How important is it that navigators, including yourself, understand clients’ struggles?
A: Resource navigators are a diverse group of individuals who have backgrounds similar to the patients we serve. We know firsthand the struggles of these communities and we have a passion for helping their children. I moved to the United States from Ecuador when I was a teenager. I’ve fought hard to build a different life for my two kids. Being a Latina and a young single mother of two, I’ve been there. We know what questions to ask and what questions not to ask. Some families are scared to get help; so many have lost their jobs especially in the restaurant industry and hotels. They do not qualify for unemployment. They are afraid to apply for SNAP benefits for their children. They think they will get in trouble. Through our health-legal partnership, we can give them comfort and explain to them that it’s going to be OK.
Q: What’s a barrier your clients face that we might not think about?
A: Many face technology barriers; they don’t have internet access at home, they probably don’t drive, they don’t have a library card. They may not be able to write or read in their own language. We cannot just tell them, “Here, call this number.”
Q: How do families react when they realize how much you can help?
A: Oh, my gosh. They are so thankful and surprised. Not only do we connect them with resources but at the clinic we give them boxes of food that are culturally appropriate and clothes for their children, including socks, pajamas, snow pants and snow boots. We let them pick. They are just super excited. They bring us gifts and food to show their appreciation but we politely decline. We tell them that our hope is that they will be successful, that something will change in their lives and in their kids’ lives and their grandkids’ lives. It’s a domino effect and I am so proud to be able to support them and witness their lives changing for the better.
Q: How do families find you?
A: At first, it was through primary care clinics when families came for well-child checkups. That expanded to diabetes clinics, asthma visits and behavioral health. Along with other forms, they also get a Community Connect questionnaire, which has very specific questions: Are you worried about not having food? Missing medical appointments because of transportation problems? Do you need diapers? Assistance paying your rent? Job training, GED classes, daycare, legal or immigration issues? If they say yes on one of the questions, a nurse or doctor will let us know and the family will come to visit us at the end of their doctor’s appointment or, these days, by phone or text.
Q: How many resource navigators work for Children’s Minnesota and what kind of training is required?
A: Children’s has three Hispanic and three Somali navigators. We don’t need a special degree but we do need to have a second language and we needed to have prior experience working with the community. They are not looking for someone who went to college. They are looking for someone who would know and understand the people we are working with. I came directly from the community that we are trying to help. This is a dream job for me.
Q: How do you spend your time away from work?
A: I’m improving my cooking skills and getting to love nature more. Before COVID, I liked to go to the movies with my children, Ethan and Emma.
Q: What’s your No. 1 goal in this job?
A: A world full of healthy, happy and successful children.