December 28, 2017
A Culturally Relative Approach to Outreach in Rural & Frontier Communities
By: Diverse Elders

by Clarissa Durán, Program Manager for the Rio Arriba County – Northern NM BEC. This article originally appeared on the website of the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

The Northern New Mexico Benefits Enrollment Center (NNM BEC) is a partnership of entities in North Central New Mexico comprised of Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services (RAC HHS) Department Senior Care Services Division, Santa Fe County Human Services Department, Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, and North Central Community Based Services (a non-profits agency in the northern frontier area of Rio Arriba County) as well as many nonprofit supporting partners.

Covering an 8,000 square mile tri-county area, the NNM BEC serves many rural and frontier areas plus towns and cities with larger populations such as Taos and the city of Española. The tri-county area is a place where traditional Native American and Hispanic cultural values are held, and thus the NNM BEC has sought to respect those values as they help low-income older adults enroll in benefits.

About the area served

Older Native Americans and Hispanics in the NNM BEC service area value staying in their homes for as long as possible and having multi-generational support provided by an extended family who live in the area. Yet maintaining these traditional cultural values has become a challenge as fewer families are able to afford providing full-time care for older adults in their homes. The NNM BEC chose to address this gap by engaging elders in our community who comprised the RAC Senior Advisory Committee.

The committee began when Rio Arriba County Senior Centers first started serving congregate meals.  The cost of the meals are reimbursed by the Non-Metro Agency on Area Aging (AAA), which requires that each senior center host a senior advisory committee and that the officers of the center-based committees be involved in an overarching Senior Advisory Committee–in this case, the Rio Arriba County Senior Advisory Committee.

The Rio Arriba County Senior Advisory Council is staffed by non-elected leaders who have made the decision to volunteer their time to ensure older adults have senior centers that truly serve each unique rural or frontier community.  The council members are involved in advising the senior centers’ staff on the needs of older adults in terms of programming and food access.

Addressing the communities’ needs

The NNM BEC chose a traditional, culturally appropriate means of introducing the BEC and its work by going to the RAC Senior Advisory Committee for input on strategic plans to hold a series of listening sessions in several of the 11 senior centers in the area.  The RAC Senior Advisory Committee is viewed by NNM BEC as the source of wisdom and creators of goodwill within the county. They provided feedback on plans and helped facilitate dates for the listening sessions.

A grassroots organization, Health Action New Mexico, assisted with facilitation and data collection at the sessions. Health Action New Mexico also provided translation services to those who are primarily Spanish speakers at the senior centers.

The listening sessions were structured as follows:

  • Having familiar faces at each senior center, who helped present and answer questions on the importance of accessing benefits
  • The NNM BEC Program Manager and local NNM BEC partner agency co-presented on program goals in the location-specific partnership
  • Finally, each listening session broke into small groups with a facilitator at each group table to answer questions and receive input about the information presented. They offered advocacy appointments for issues that were brought up, such as Medicare not providing enough prescription coverage for diabetic glucose monitoring test strips. Also, the BEC took contact information for those who were interested in enrolling in benefits.

Results that matter

The NNM BEC gives the Senior Advisory Committee members a report each month on its enrollments.  They are able to troubleshoot difficulties in follow-up with clients in the more remote areas and receive guidance on any other challenges.

Since working through the RAC Senior Advisory Committee, the NNM BEC have helped enroll 729  individuals in benefits through September 2017. Qualitatively, they know that efforts are working because the Senior Advisory Committee continues to provide outreach through word of mouth, bringing in referrals on a daily basis. In rural communities, word of mouth is the best marketing that money can’t buy.

Finally, the BEC knows that it is effective because the Senior Advisory Committee supports and guides all of its innovations. They are important volunteers who ensure that services remain culturally appropriate and relevant to older adults in northern New Mexico.



The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.