10 Remarkable O.C. Women

America Bracho

Public Health Promoter

As a physician in her native Venezuela, Bracho became increasingly troubled to find herself treating and retreating illnesses that might not have occurred had basic public services and health systems been in place. “I found myself powerless as a physician,” she says. The 58-year-old came to the U.S. in 1986 to study public health and found problems in this part of the Americas as well—including deficits of knowledge and information. “When I started in Orange County, you couldn’t find anything in Spanish on heart disease, or diabetes, or domestic violence, and no one had ever done a needs assessment for Latinos here. So we did one, and from there we created Latino Health Access.” She now is president and CEO of the Santa Ana nonprofit, which has been promoting wellness and community involvement among the underserved since 1993.
A hallmark of your group’s approach is its promotores system. What is that, exactly?
It begins with someone who uses our services. (Then) they volunteer, maybe a lot, and they take on more and more responsibilities. If they have knowledge that the community needs, then we train them and hire them. If a woman has diabetes … she can be the diabetes expert in her community. LHA has hired 42 promotores.

What is the biggest health issue right now for Latinos in Orange County?
The World Health Organization says that health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not just an absence of disease. So I would say this: Latino communities are often places that are not conducive to health. For example, obesity and diabetes are big problems in these communities, but so is the lack of parks. We learned that the 92701 ZIP code didn’t have a single park-community center. So we organized. It took 11 years, but we funded and built the park.

Do you miss being a physician?
Not at all, but it was necessary to doing this work. I would see kids with diarrhea, I’d give medicine, and I’d tell the mothers to keep extra medicine with them in case the water got dirty again. In public health, we say that the places where you live, learn, play, and work create your health. So I went from working on disease to working on the places.