This story is reprinted with permission from the Public Health Insider blog. Read it on the blog.
For National Public Health Week (April 3-7th), we’re celebrating by featuring unsung public health heroes who make our communities safer and healthier. Each day, we’ll highlight a public health worker through their own words, sharing their work and why they’re committed to serving our community.
Today, we have Tina Maestas, who serves as a Public Health Nurse based in Renton. Tina is one of seven Public Health Nurses whose office is located inside a “CSO” – a state office where people can apply for assistance with cash, food, child support, disability, and other services.
The CSO nurse’s office is strategically located so that people who come to enroll in state programs find one-stop-shopping, where they also can easily get pregnancy tests, STD tests, birth control, referrals to medical and dental care, and more.
What’s your day to day work for Public Health?
It’s a walk-in clinic, so I am prepared for anything. Mostly, it’s women coming for emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, birth control, and referrals for medical care. I also give out free condoms and encourage men to come and ask me questions. They have questions about their own health, about STDs. I also see undocumented women, who have no access to contraceptive or testing services because they are expensive. For Latinas, it’s important to be able to come and speak in our own language. My goal is for it to be a haven and safe place for people to come ask whatever they want and get started wherever they are at, and to feel they are valued.
My goal is for it to be a haven and safe place for people to come ask whatever they want … and to feel they are valued.
How and why did you get started working in public health?
I grew up in a family that always was involved with racial and economic justice issues. I was involved through my family in the development of El Centro de la Raza on Beacon Hill, back in the 1970s. After being involved with these issues, working in public health was a natural fit, because of public health’s mission to serve the safety net, and the understanding that all people have the basic right to access services and health care. Now, I’ve worked 28 years as a Public Health Nurse. I’ve done everything from home visiting, to running an obstetrical clinic at White Center, to starting a midwifery clinic at Eastgate.
What is changing in your work?
We see a national agenda that’s creating tremendous fear in the community and creating backlash. And we don’t know what’s going to happen with the Affordable Care Act. Our jobs could change dramatically, and we would be looking at a huge gap in our safety net.
At the same time, we know health isn’t just about medical services. To be healthy, we need safe housing, access to healthy food, education, living wage jobs. The health department is clear – it’s not just about stethoscopes and medical testing. We know real health is about having all these other things. I’m hopeful because local and state leaders see that we can be a beacon for what’s possible.
What is most challenging about your work?
The fact that the safety net has been so slashed, and there are not resources. The biggest thing is housing. Every day, I see people who are living in their car or living from house to house – people who have done everything they possibly can, to get on every list. It’s a huge crisis. Seeing the people I see every day gives me insight into the incredible resource in this community that’s being wasted away – people who are so talented and smart, but they haven’t had the opportunities to enhance those skills.
You contacted PHSKC leadership and asked for a sign to post to reassure and welcome families, regardless of immigration status. What prompted you to write that letter?
I wrote the letter because I was reminded of the quote, “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” There are consequences of the on-going demonization of Latino immigrants and Muslims in this country. Many parents I know are now signing temporary guardianship papers so friends or other family can take care of their children in case they are arrested and deported by ICE. Young people are waking up with night terrors, afraid of being taken away or their parents being taken away. I felt it was important for the Public Health Department to announce that we provide care regardless of immigration status and that we will not discriminate against anyone — their safety, health and well-being is our one and only priority.
Is there something in your work that makes you proud to work for Public Health?
Everything about Public Health makes me proud! Every single day, I am given the space to see people as they are. When Public Health allows all of us to look at the whole person and see health in a holistic way, we can hear what people have to say. And that takes time. It’s not just answer 20 questions and get your pills and on your way.
So often, people have a story to tell, and to get to that person’s real needs around their health, you need to hear their story. You might tell me a little about yourself, and then come back another time and tell more. And over time, I might get you in treatment for substance abuse, or whatever put you at risk for an STD in the first place.
What is one thing you would like the public to know about the work that you do?
Sometimes, people see us as working for “the other people.”
They need to see themselves in the work we do and how we all benefit. Everything from foodborne outbreaks, or flu and mumps epidemics, keeping our community safe, is what Public Health does. And – if we have people who are not having their needs met, that puts our entire community at risk, because our community’s health and happiness depends on the entire population’s health.
Originally posted April 4, 2017