Milwaukee Area Health Education Center “Treat the Whole Person” Celebrates 30 Years
By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Azure’de ‘DeDe’ Williams will never forget how her father learned he had prostate cancer. The way the provider was at the patient’s bedside was missing, as was the simple pamphlet his father received after the diagnosis. Her father started crying.
Watching his father cry – a man Williams had never seen show emotion – got Williams thinking about how diagnoses are delivered and to whom they are delivered. When a medical professional undergoes training in cultural sensitivity, it makes a difference, she said.
Williams is the executive director of the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center, also known as AHEC. The organization focuses on breaking down barriers that keep people from taking care of their health — like a history of bad bedside manners — and creating a diverse healthcare workforce. health by involving the community.
This year, AHEC celebrates its 30th anniversary as a catalyst for change in the Milwaukee community and beyond.
The organization is part of the Wisconsin Area Health Education Center, which in turn is part of the National Area Health Education Center. The national program began as a way to meet community health needs.
“We’re trying to make sure that we increase that diversity and the distribution of healthcare workers in our region, so that we can promote health equity for all,” Williams said, adding that AHEC’s work n not only contributed to health personnel. but to the economic dynamism of the city.
The organization does this work through three main strategies: connecting students to professionals, connecting professionals to community, and connecting community to better health.
Over its 30-year history, AHEC has served more than 20,000 people. It offers nine different programs throughout the year, including the Community Health Worker Program, an Aging Masters Program, the Community Health Internship Program, the Youth Health Services Corps and more.
Williams noted that the programs’ success is due in part to its strategic partnerships with iCare, Advocate Aurora, Progressive Community Health Centers and more.
Through the Community Health Worker Training Program, Milwaukee AHEC trains and shares these stories, so students have the knowledge and receive hands-on experience.
“They learn to treat the whole person and not diagnoses or treatment,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Williams, who took on the role of chief executive in June 2017, said she was drawn to the position because of the employees and their ability and desire to listen to residents. She previously worked with AHEC on a hypertension awareness campaign while at the American Heart Association.
“When I saw how well these community health workers were able to instantly relate to these hypertension program participants, how knowledgeable they were about other community resources…I had so much respect for them,” she said.
They took the time to talk with the participants and understand their struggles, from unemployment and underemployment to housing and transportation issues, she said. They were trained to be great listeners and connectors.
“It makes a big difference when you have healthcare professionals who have been trained in cultural sensitivity,” Williams said. “Let them be aware of the systemic oppression people experience in a community and why they may be suspicious.”
She added: “People who are from the community have a long memory of what happened and how people were treated. They’re going to approach and they’re going to convey this information with sensitivity, because they know this story.
At AHEC, it’s not just about health – it’s about recognizing the factors that affect health, that is, the social determinants of health such as diet, housing and education.
The Community Health Worker Program explains what health awareness and promotion looks like, how to navigate community resources, and more. The organization strives to work with people who know the community well, so that when they do the job, people feel seen.
When individuals walk into a health care facility, they want to see individuals and materials such as magazines and brochures that reflect the community they come from and if they don’t, it creates a barrier, a said Williams.
The nature of the organization’s programs ensures that individuals in the community serve the community. When people feel safe, they can focus on their health. They will feel empowered to access care and ask questions about their health.
The alternative is that people wait too long to seek help and instead of preventing a problem, it’s about treating the problem.
“Without your health and without your education, it really limits the quality of life you can have,” Williams said.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center will host a luncheon on Thursday, June 23. Tickets are $45.