AUSTIN (KXAN) — Community health workers could provide critical care for Latinx communities in Travis County who are at risk for kidney disease, according to a six-month pilot study from Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.

Tessa Novick, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine and Board-Certified Nephrologist from Dell Medical School at UT Austin,  joined KXAN’s Jennifer Sanders to provide insight on the study.

Read a full transcription of the discussion below or watch the interview in the video player above.

NOVICK: Hispanic and Latinx individuals are at higher risk for kidney failure than non-Hispanic white people. Kidney failure is the state where your kidneys don’t work, and you need dialysis or a transplant to survive. Most of the time, kidney failure can be prevented, but many people don’t know they have it and don’t have access to medical care. So, the National Kidney Foundation does community screening events for kidney disease. What we did as part of this program was we went to those screening events, and we enrolled Hispanic individuals with risk factors for kidney disease. And then, we had them work with a community health worker who helped them find medical insurance and find a doctor and any community resources that they needed to address barriers to care. In our study, all individuals who needed health insurance were able to get it and were able to see a doctor, which means they were able to get connected with medical care early and potentially prevent kidney failure. So, we’re our findings are in support of the need for more community health workers.

SANDERS: Walk us through how the community health workers really help people who don’t have access to good health care navigate the system.

NOVICK: So, a community health worker is basically somebody who you identify that can help you find the things you need in your community. They are community members. So, in this case, Hispanic individuals who are trained to provide health education but also teach you how to navigate the medical system, and how to find community resources that you need, which is critical. So, what we find is people don’t know that they’re eligible for health insurance, even if they aren’t US citizens, they don’t know that there are places in the community that provide culturally competent care that they can access. And so, these community health workers really helped them get plugged in. And what we found is, first of all, people found out that they were eligible for all sorts of care that they didn’t think they were eligible for. But then they were able to help the people around them also access care. So, it’s something we’re sort of calling a ripple effect of community health workers. They work with certain individuals who can then help other members in their community.

SANDERS: How do you feel like the results from your study should maybe inform policy or inform investments that are made here in Travis County?

NOVICK: Community health workers are essential for helping historically underserved individuals who haven’t always had access to care. We’re among numerous studies that support the need for more community health workers. Luckily, I think healthcare payers are starting to pay attention to these, and starting in the year 2024, more insurance companies are going to start reimbursing for community health workers.

SANDERS: OK, and then you also have an event coming up a screening coming up?

NOVICK: Yes, we do, on October 20. The National Kidney Foundation is doing its next community screening event at the Mexican consulate.