‘We Need Empathy:’ Franklin County Latinos Make Final Push To Save Interpreter’s Job

Photo by Starting Line Staff

Another meeting and another excuse from county officials is how Latino organizers felt after Monday’s Franklin County Board of Supervisors meeting in Hampton.

For months, Spanish-speaking community members have urged the county to reconsider its stance on eliminating public health interpreter/navigator Vicki Guerrero’s job after a little more than two decades of service.

“If you had that person for 22 years, if I’m told correctly, why now when the demographic is even larger is it being taken away,” said Val Gonzalez, a Hampton resident who has been fighting to save Guerrero’s job.

Val Gonzalez of Hampton speaks to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Starting Line staff

Latinos make up 16% of Franklin County’s population and Guerrero has helped many members of that community out through her post in public health, but her position is being eliminated on Friday, June 30.

Dozens of people showed up to Monday’s meeting—something that’s become quite regular—to show visible support for the long-time county employee even though only a handful of them could fit into the cramped boardroom as the rest gathered outside. 

“We need empathy,” said one woman who spoke at the meeting. “We are workers. We are mothers—look around—all my friends have kids here, we need [a] navigator or social worker here in Hampton.”    

Photo by Starting Line staff  

Franklin County Supervisor Gary McVicker told Gonzalez the state funding that covered $10,000 of Guerrero’s nearly $41,000 salary was going away and that’s why they couldn’t save her job. This contradicts the county’s previous statement that the grant could no longer be used for interpretative services, which was previously said to be the reason why her position was being eliminated.

Gonzalez said she spoke with State Sen. Amanda Ragan, who told her that Franklin County still received the Local Public Health Services Grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health and it was up to local officials to determine how the grant is spent.

Additionally, Starting Line previously confirmed with the state that the grant could be used for the services Guerrero provided through the local county health office.

“Local Public Health Services funds can be used by local boards of health to assure the provision of core public health functions and essential public health services in every county,” public health spokesperson Sara Ekstrand told Starting Line.

“Interpretation services for population health promotion services is an allowable use of the essential public health dollars appropriated in the State HHS budget. Local Boards of Health make spending determinations for the essential public health dollars within their county.”  

Guerrero is the only bilingual public health staff member and the only person in the six-person office losing their job.

Latino organizers and their advocates also challenged assertions by the supervisors that other services offered in Hampton could replace what Guerrero does. They asked representatives from La Luz Centro Cultural and Central Iowa Community Services (CICS), two of the suggested organizations, to speak at Monday’s meeting.

Marciela Rodriguez of Hamtpon speaks to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Starting Line staff

La Luz is a Hampton-based nonprofit that promotes cultural awareness and diversity in the community, and CICS is a mental health service region. Speakers for both clarified to the supervisors what services their offices provide. Furthermore, neither offered themselves up as a solid replacement for a county navigator/interpreter.

La Luz previously expressed its support for keeping the county health navigator/interpreter position intact and representatives of the nonprofit again championed that stance. They also provided further clarity on what kinds of grants La Luz is funded by and how they can be used in response to Supervisor Michael Nolte’s comments during a previous meeting. Nolte said on Monday he was taken out of context and declined to accept printed copies of La Luz’s grants when they were offered.

 “No, because I got them,” Nolte said.

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Starting Line staff

One of the reasons Guerrero is so well respected within Franklin County’s Latino community is because she often goes above and beyond her job description to help people find the services they need, something McVicker seemed to indirectly take aim at.

“Paperwork for each individual—like DHS and that kind of stuff—that’s their responsibility,” he said of different agencies and citing Medicare as an example. “That’s not public health’s job; it’s not in their job description of what services they provide.”

With Guerrero’s tenure with the county coming to a close at the end of this week and after yet another meeting where they felt like their concerns went unheard, organizer Marciela Rodriguez of Hampton told Starting Line after the meeting that they have one option left.

“The next step is we are going to sue,” she said.


by Ty Rushing

To contact Senior Editor Ty Rushing for tips or story ideas, email him at ty@iowastartingline.com or find him on Twitter @Rushthewriter 

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