Partner Profile: How the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations is Creating an Equal Virginia for All

Challenges facing the Latino community have been all over the news recently. To understand the efforts happening here in Virginia to ensure all communities have opportunities to succeed I sat down with Beatriz Amberman, chair of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO) and member of the Virginia Oral Health Coalition legislative committee, to learn more about her role in creating a Virginia that works for everyone.

Beatriz has worked as a human rights advocate for more than 39 years and helped found VACOLAO in 2001. With a mission to bring together Virginia organizations that serve or support the interest of the Latino community, VACOLAO is dedicated to empowering the community and securing equal treatment, equal opportunity and equal representation for Latinos in Virginia. We at the Virginia Oral Health Coalition have had the opportunity to proudly partner with Beatriz and VACOLAO on key health issues like Medicaid expansion, to ensure all Virginians have access to the health care they need and reinforce that oral heath is a key part of health care equity.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited.

1. What role does oral health play in the work VACOLAO is doing?

VACOLAO has been advocating for the rights of Latinos and immigrants since its inception. We work to educate, empower, and secure equal treatment, opportunity, and representation for Latinos in Virginia, and that begins with assuring the good health of our community, including oral health. We must change the statistics. The Hispanic Dental Association reports that nearly 1 in 5 US Hispanics have not visited the dentist at all in the past two years. It is also concerning that 47% of third graders in Virginia have experienced tooth decay. It is up to all of us to make sure that we invest in the health of our work force and our future generations. At VACOLAO we do this by organizing educational workshops and health fairs, and through collaboration with organizations, such as the Virginia Oral Health Coalition.

2.Medicaid expansion was an important milestone in the fight to ensure all Virginians have access to care. What is VACOLAO focused on with the roll outof Medicaid expansion?

For the past four years we made the issue of Medicaid expansion in Virginia a main focus of our advocacy at the General Assembly. Now that Medicaid Expansion has passed, we want to focus our attention on the implementation plans for the expansion and assist the Virginia Oral Health Coalition in its efforts to include a comprehensive dental benefit for all adults. Our community is underinsured and underserved; 34% of Latinos lack health insurance and we want that to change. We'll continue to work to assure that our government invests in community health programs, such as expanding oral health services in schools where some children may be able to get the only dental care available to them.

3. Are there any other legislative issues that VACOLAO is focused on right now?

Another issue of concern for us and the community members we serve is the expectation of the announcement of the “Public Charge” proposed rule by the federal government. This is a plan intended to impact legal immigrants and discourage them from accessing health services like Medicaid, CHIP, and food and nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC. This is bringing fear into our community. We are calling for support and ask the community at large to help VACOLAO collect signatures in opposition to this rule once the announcement is made.

4. How have partnerships and community involvement helped VACOLAO achieve its goal?

Community involvement is very important; it works and is essential in shaping the community we want to live in. The formation of the Virginia Latino Advisory Board with the Governors office and Medicaid expansion are great examples of what unity and a vision for the common good can achieve. As we saw with Medicaid, many people and organizations dedicated time and resources and worked for years until expansion was achieved in Virginia. No organization can do it alone, and that is why collaboration is a must. VACOLAO is proud to have partnered with the Virginia Oral Health Coalition on a number of efforts. Their expertise in oral health impacted how VACOLAO views and advocates for health in a more comprehensive way. We are committed to incorporating oral health in our educational efforts and the services we can bring to our community.

5. What opportunities are there to get involved with VACOLAO?

VACOLAO organizes many educational programs and civic engagement opportunities throughout the year. We have one event coming up, and we want to extend an invitation for everyone to join us. On Saturday, September 8, 2018, in Partnership with the Chrysler Museum of Art, in Norfolk, VA, we are hosting “Freedom from Fear through Civic Engagement.” This nonpartisan community and leadership conference is free and brings together high profile state and local organizations to talk about diverse issues of importance, to encourage voting participation, action, and collaboration in our community. You can register for the event here.

There is still more work to be done in Virginia to improve access to comprehensive affordable health care for all Virginians.

Learn more about Beatriz and VACOLAO’s work here.

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Lauren Sawyer