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Home » Uncategorized » SoAHEC lends COVID aid to communities

SoAHEC lends COVID aid to communities


Monday, June 7, 2021; Las Cruces, NM: This spring the Southern Area Health Education Center (SoAHEC) has been busy lending much needed supplies and health education on COVID-19 awareness in southern New Mexico.

SoAHEC interns take a break at the Las Cruces Convention Center vaccine site. They handed out COVID-cares bags to 1,500 people in southern New Mexico. (Pictured from left to right) Interns Oscar Juarez, Mireya Pacheco, Tayler Lopez, and Valerie Juarez.

In the first phase of its efforts, SoAHEC distributed 1,500 Covid-cares bags chocked full of bi-lingual information on the virus and how to protect yourself from it along with a mask, hand sanitizer and other items to keep residents healthy throughout the later stages of the pandemic.

The mask-up initiative was dubbed #LandOfEnmaskment – a wordplay on the state’s slogan to remind residents the importance of continuing to wear masks to lower COVID-infection rates.

“Our staff distributed the bags from February to March at vaccine sites to remind people that they still needed to wear their masks for everyone’s safety,” said Eugenia “Gena” Trujillo, director of SoAHEC.

The herculean effort was carried out by their small staff, student interns and partners and focused on communities in their service district which includes Chaves, Cibola, Doña Ana, De Baca, Eddy, Lea, Lincoln, Otero, Roosevelt, Sierra, Socorro, Torrance, and Valencia counties.

The effort was made possible with funding – $23,864 – received from the federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, to prevent or limit spread of COVID-19 in rural and underserved communities.

SoAHEC staff and interns hand out bags COVID-cares bags at Las Cruces Convention Center vaccine distribution site. (Pictured from left to right) Intern Oscar Juarez, SoAHEC Director Gena Trujillo, intern Mireya Pacheco, intern Tayler Lopez, SoAHEC program specialist MariaAnna Molina.

COVID-cares bags were also distributed at food pantries and COVID testing sites in seven of the 13 counties the program serves from its office based in Las Cruces.

Trujillo said, “It was a great distribution effort and many collaborative partners and organizations stepped in to help make it a success. The tote bags were donated by our partner Western Sky Community Care in addition to the funds for the Mask-Up initiative,”

“We wanted to lend support to a great cause,” Western Sky Community Care’s Senior Community Relations Coordinator Kristopher Gomez said of their New Mexico Medicaid managed care organization’s donation and staff volunteering to pack the hundreds of bags.

Gomez added, “We are grateful for SoAHEC for stepping in to make a big difference in the community by raising awareness in regard to resources.”

Board members also aided in distributing supplies over the SoAHEC service area in New Mexico that covers an area as large as Washington state.

SoAHEC board member, John E. Kutinac is the New Mexico Department of Health Southwest Region Health Promotion Program Manager. Kutinac aided distribution by activating the southern network of health promotion team to transport supplies to the more rural locations.

New Mexico Department of Health staff aid in distrusting 1,500 COVID-care bags throughout southern New Mexico. Here Jazmine Saenz and John Kutinac finish loading the bags destined for Anthony, Chaparral and Sunland Park.

“Everyone did an amazing job putting packets together as a collective team and to get the bags out to residents in Doña Ana, Hidalgo, Luna Otero, Sierra and Socorro counties.”

Kutinac is also a board member of SoAHEC’s parent organization, the Center for Health Innovation (CHI), New Mexico’s designated Public Health Institute.

“It’s all about collaboration,” Kutinac said of the larger efforts CHI and the Area Health Education Centers it administers, “not only to provide health information, but the work SoAHEC does to expand workforce development with an amazing group of people and community stakeholders.”

The outcome Kutinac hopes from the COVID-cares bags is “to help keep everyone healthy and help us to continue to fight this virus. To make sure we are saving lives and being able to return to our activities that we love with family and friends.”

The SoAHEC student interns also lent a hand, even when distance learning had them located over a hundred miles away – at the fringes of the SoAHEC extensive service area.

Living in Albuquerque, Lila Larkin was completing her certification as a Community Health Worker online from the Doña Ana Community College, but that didn’t stop her from delivering bags to Valencia County, the northern most reach of SoAHEC’s service area.

“I went to Century High School in Los Lunas for a vaccine event to distribute bags after people received their shot,” Larkin said of her experience. “At first I was unsure about handing out the bags, but everyone was very friendly. The vaccine clinic was well run, and people who received the COVID-Cares bags were very grateful.”

Larkin also aided in the health careers presentation at area schools to raise awareness of the diverse fields available in health care for students to pursue a career at the School of Dreams Academy in Los Lunas through distance learning.

The intern experience also opened Larkin’s eyes to the larger scope of public health. “I didn’t understand the number of counties SoAHEC serves.  To see the adjustments for COVID-19 that the program did to continue their community outreach – when they couldn’t be in community the way they used to be – was amazing.”

SoAHEC’s Director Gena Trujillo delivers water bottles to Hatch Valley Middle School to help students stay hydrated after water fountains were removed to decrease the chance of COVID infections.

SoAHEC went one step further to help public school students in the region, according to Trujillo, “Our team delivered 3,000 water bottles, tote bags and COVID-safe practices information to students.”

The water bottles help students stay hydrated since the schools’ water fountains were removed to lessen the chance spreading the virus. Water bottles were distributed to Las Cruces High School, Lynn Middle School, MacArthur Elementary School, San Miguel Elementary School, and Hatch Valley Middle and Elementary Schools.

Trujillo said, “My hope for the outcome for this project is for community members and individuals who have received the information on COVID-safe practices to share with others and continue using COVID safe practices.”

For more information contact at (575) 597-0349 or  or visit: http://chi-original.local/soahec.