By Christine Bolaños.
Latinas are paving the way for innovation and solutions to complex and high-impact problems in various industries. This determination sets them apart in highly competitive and high-demand fields such as Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics or STEM where they welcome challenges and enthusiastically take the reins of new initiatives. They all have one purpose in mind: To make the world a better place.
The Department of Education reports that Latinas routinely have the highest uninsured rates of any group in the U.S. They are more likely to lack dental care, be overweight or obese, suffer from food insecurity and risk diabetes. Here are three Latinas who are helping solve these health issues for society in different ways.
BlakeSenior Manager, Health and Wellness Transformation team
Irasema Roldan Blake’s father dreamed of becoming a doctor and though that aspiration wasn’t in the cards for him he was determined his daughter would be afforded all the opportunities he lacked. When it came time for presents, Blake knew to expect chalkboards, chalk, pianos and calculators instead of the typical toys her peers received from their parents.
“Because he didn’t have an opportunity to help people in that way, I wanted to do that for him, and that’s what influenced me to be in health now,” Blake recalls. And though her mother didn’t attain a high school education, she helped Blake with her homework and passed on her intelligence and passion for education.
As senior manager of the Health and Wellness Transformation team at Walmart, she is responsible for bringing affordable health access to communities through retail.
She is proud of launching Walmart Wellness Day, a one-day, four-hour event, where shoppers get free health check-ups at their local store. Services include glucose and blood pressure tests, vision screenings at stores with vision centers, product samples and information about health care insurance.
“These are services that customers would have to go to a clinic to get and pay for but we’re bringing these as complimentary services through Walmart, where they can get screened and learn more about their health,” Blake explains.
Another source of pride is the Healthcare Begins Here program where shoppers can learn and receive guidance about health care options from certified healthcare agents. This year’s event is slated to launch Oct. 9 in about 2,000 stores.
“What we do is help our customers with their health,” Blake shares, adding that one customer was able to get his blood pressure and glucose levels back to normal after learning they were too high during a health screening.
Her second passion is education as evidenced through her commitment as mentor for Walmart’s Mi Futuro program and volunteering time via the company’s Lunch Buddies program. She also empowers women and minorities via the Hispanic Latino Associate Resource Group, where she co-leads the Padrinos program. The Padrinos is an onboarding effort that supports new Walmart associates during their first year.
Blake doesn’t shy away from the fact that she had to overcome many obstacles as a young immigrant — including learning English while finishing high school — but that only made her stronger and more determined. She advises Latinas to never stop believing in their capabilities.
Executive Director of Systems Alignment and Integration, National Diversity and Inclusion
Science and the intricacies of the human body always drew intrigue in Laura Long but it was her daughter’s hospitalization that propelled her toward a health career. At the time, Long was the young mother of a six-week-old, and dealing with the uncertainty of her child’s health was overwhelming.
“I wanted to know everything. It wasn’t enough to be told something,” she recalls.
Those feelings of wanting to thoroughly understand what was going on validated Long’s interest in health and inspired her to pursue her bachelor’s degree in integrative biology. After graduating, Long worked in public health in California for several years before going back to school to obtain her master’s degree in business administration.
Today, she is on the corporate side of health care, working as Executive Director of Systems Alignment and Integration, National Diversity and Inclusion at Kaiser Permanente. In this role, she advises leaders across the company on effective diversity and inclusion practices and executes the D&I strategy by driving the integration of these practices into every aspect of the business to help maintain leadership in providing high-quality care. She is called to ensure a highly diverse workforce is leveraged and that all employees feel included no matter what level or what department they work in.
Since her promotion to the position in 2015, Kaiser Permanente launched the Leading Inclusively Initiative, which provides leaders with tools, knowledge and resources to help them create more inclusive work environments. According to Long, the team has received an “incredible amount” of testimonials about how the program has helped employees improve their leadership and communication skills.
“It’s really systemic,” Long says of the program’s impact. “All our efforts we do are in support of equity and inclusion for all.” The message resonates with members and the community who see KP as a highly diverse organization that cares about everyone it impacts.
“Kaiser Permanente is a highly progressive organization to work with,” Long shares. “It’s a nonprofit but corporate environment, with a strong social mission.”
That mission aligns perfectly with Long’s vision. Her commitment to health can be traced back to her Latino roots which taught her the importance of family, relationship building, strong work ethic, resilience, understanding and respect.
Her father advanced from an agricultural laborer when he immigrated from Mexico to a machine technician in Silicon Valley who eventually reached management level.
“I think those values drove me to ensure I was involved with work that made an impact on the well-being of our communities and our people,” Long says.
She advises Latinas to see obstacles as new opportunities to learn and grow.
“One of my favorite quotes that I anchor a lot of my thinking is that ‘Luck favors the prepared,'” Long says. “If I do my part in developing myself, doors will start opening and I’ll be positioned to walk through them.”
Vice President, Information Technology
Mexican-American Michelle Machemer comes from a family of hard workers who always aspired to leave something positive behind for the next generation. Her grandfather and father knew the key to achieving the American dream was a quality education and Machemer took that lesson to heart.
Though she studied economics in college, destiny led her to a career in technology, and eventually to a company where she could use technology to help better the world. Today, Machemer is vice president of information technology at Horizon BCBSNJ.
She is responsible for all applications development across the organization and manages a team of more than 700 employees with a budget exceeding $100 million.
She directed her team in preparing and adapting to the Affordable Care Act.
“At Horizon, we’ve been very focused in leading the transformation of healthcare,” she explains. This includes improving quality of care, enhancing patient experience and lowering cost of care.
“As a technology leader, I think it’s important that every person in a technology organization contribute to something bigger than just technology,” Machemer shares. “They should be contributing to the greater good and to a cause they can believe and relate to.”
Her team uses technology to share data with doctors and hospital which in turn helps them offer better healthcare services to patients. Machemer is also an intrical part of Horizon’s diversity initiative. The company has several affinity groups, including one focused on women and one focused on Latinos. She is executive sponsor of the Muslim affinity group where she aims to learn, grow and understand a culture different from hers.
Machemer is also instrumental in enhancing healthcare for New Jersey’s Latinos, who constitute 20 percent of the population. This includes ensuring Hispanics can effectively enroll and become ensured as well as find doctors who cater to their needs.
She helped with the launch of a Spanish-language website and ensuring there are Spanish-speaking call center employees to help guide Latinos through the healthcare processes.
Through Horizon’s charitable foundation, Machemer helps support health promotion and disease prevention, including childhood obesity, oral healthcare and asthma, all of which affect Latinos in large numbers.
She is proud to work with a company that acknowledges the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in customer service. And she considers her greatest accomplishment raising three children while working in an industry that is constantly transforming while working in a supportive environment for 17 years.
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