Public Health hires community health worker to assist Karen residents

Published 2:08 pm Friday, February 3, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Freeborn County Public Health has a new community health worker to reach out to members of the Karen community living in the county.

“This is actually really new to me,” said Say Rober, who has been hired for the position. “I’ve never been in the field of community health before.”

According to Freeborn County Public Health Director Sue Yost, the community health worker position is a new role designed to help those in the Karen community, to build relationships with them, help with health care situations and help them learn how to live as well as possible in the community while adapting to life in America. Karen residents have been moving into Albert Lea and the surrounding community since 2008, and the population continues to grow.

Email newsletter signup

Rober’s interest in public health started with a desire to help the community.

“When I first came to America, we lived in North Carolina, and there were barely any [people] that could help us,” she said, adding that it felt good to help people in any way possible.

Her ability to speak Karen also helped.

“At first I was very hesitant because I didn’t know what the role was,” she said. “I didn’t want to mess up and stuff. I’ve been in the nursing assistant field … but never actually gone about it myself and tried to help clients one-on-one, fill out forms and all this stuff.”

And as someone who described herself as someone who “goes with the flow,” she was hesitant to apply for the position after the occupational health nurse at Select Foods — her previous employer — suggested it.

“I was helping her, she was teaching me a lot of the stuff already,” Rober said.

That stuff included performing COVID tests and helping people to fill out insurance paperwork.

In her new role, she helps people fill out applications for food stamps, and last month she helped a family apply for Semcac assistance.

“[Applicants] don’t know that they have to update their Social Security, so I help fill out [paperwork] there, turn it in for them.”

She’ll also help answer any questions they may have regarding the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children or public health.

“Just networking, trying to get them to where they should go,” she said.

She’ll also help connect them to food resources, apply for medical assistance and schedule and transport them to appointments.

“Say is very outgoing and very energetic,” Yost said. “She’s very well-spoken, and I really felt that she had the energy to be able to develop this new program that we have.”

Yost said it was also a possibility the health department could hire another community health worker to help another population in the future if the new program proved “really” successful, if they could find the funding and if county commissioners helped support it.

Rober wants people to know they can reach out to her for any assistance.

Prior to taking over the new position, Rober worked as a certified nursing assistant at St. John’s Lutheran Community, where she helped bathe seniors and dress seniors before breakfast and bring them food.

Rober, whose family spent seven years as refugees in Thailand before moving to North Carolina and the Twin Cities in 2015 and then settling in Albert Lea in 2016, started in November.

“There’s actually an interpreter here and stuff to help guide you,” she said. “… In St. Paul there’s a lot of people who try to help you get around and tell you where to go if you need assistance with housing and all this and that, to apply for apartments.”