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Navigating the Path: Meet Our Community Health Navigators

Navigating the Path: Meet Our Community Health Navigators 

As part of our Navigating the Path storytelling series, we introduce Denise Nunn, Community Health Navigator on our Omaha, Nebraska team. Denise’s career started in accounting, where her love for helping clients began, later launching a medical billing company. During the pandemic, she rediscovered her interest in helping people while working as a contact tracer and liaison with the local health department in Omaha. Working in public service and helping people with needs related to the pandemic was one of her most rewarding experiences. The transition to Community Health Navigator was a natural one for Denise.

What made you decide to pursue this career? 

I pursued this career because of my passion to help others who are in need. It is so gratifying to share information with someone that could help them in their time of need.  My family was very poor. Growing up without the simple necessities, food, toilet paper, and heat, puts things in perspective for me. There is a feeling of shame and sadness that comes with asking for help.

The most rewarding part of my work is speaking with people, understanding their challenges without judgment, and talking to them about our program, Path Assist. By working together, we can help find the resources they need to be healthy and, hopefully, give them a better quality of life. 

What are the most common challenges people face? 

I believe language and culture barriers are so prevalent in our country. Socioeconomic barriers also pose huge challenges. I have had conversations with clients who have shared their fear of participating in our program due to fear of deportation. These families have lived here in Omaha for years without proper documentation - many of them have extended families living with them and support them financially. They live without healthcare and other basic necessities. They do not speak English and rely on their children to interpret for them. When I have the opportunity to speak with them, I assure them that my sole purpose is to help them find the resources they need regardless of their immigration status. 

What do people distrust, and how do you combat those fears?

Trust is a very big issue. Also, fear of consequences when confidentiality is involved. I talk about how hard it is to be healthy without access to good jobs, schools, and safe, affordable homes. There are programs and agencies that can help overcome these barriers. Social determinants of health have a major impact on health outcomes. My job is to advocate and assist people regardless of their income, where they live, who they are, with the available resources for those in need of services. I also talk about health equity. Everyone deserves to live the best life they can live.  

There has been a lot of discussion around health equity and disparities. Why is social care critical to achieving health equity? 

The pandemic continues to impact people living with social determinants of health. Our lives were forever changed. Families lost loved ones, lost jobs and homes, and could not see a way out of the crisis we faced. Many people don’t know where or how to apply for services. My job is to align our clients with the services and resources they need regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, or challenges. It is critical that everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible before they need an ER visit.

What changes do you see needing to happen to move forward? 

I would like to see more organizations offering assistance to families not aware of the resources available and how to navigate the system, with a strong emphasis on healthcare. Spreading awareness of our Path Assist program and how it works, following our clients through the process of applying for assistance, and emphasizing the fact we are committed and will be working with them over the course of three months or longer if needed.

  What event made the biggest impact on your life? 

Growing up in a family with a single parent, who had an undiagnosed mental illness, was extremely painful. We were also very poor and received little assistance offered at that time. There was a stigma attached to "those" types of families and with it - much shame. Once I started working and was able to receive much-needed therapy, I realized that instead of shame, I could be empowered and resilient to my past experiences. I decided then and there I would use that to my advantage and help others who share the same struggles.

Who inspires you and why?

I am inspired by so many different people and in many different ways. When someone has suffered a great loss, be it family, friend, or personal tragedy, and that loss inspires them to help others, I always admire the strength and resilience needed to tell their story. When someone comes from an “undesirable past” and uses that experience to change their future, I am inspired and hopeful.

What is the most valuable life lesson you’ve learned, career or otherwise?  

I think one of the most important lessons that I have learned is never to judge someone based on appearance, socioeconomic status, or education. Everyone has a story and deserves to be heard. Although I didn’t think I was fortunate at the time, I look back at my life experience and realize I was given an opportunity and a gift I can share with others.

If you could tell your 18-year-old self anything, what would it be and why? 

If I could give advice to my 18-year-old self, I would tell myself that the possibilities to learn, be present and help others are endless. Regardless of how we achieve success, from our education or life experience, it's a worthwhile venture.

Fill in the blank: 

When I’m not working I enjoy gardening and being with family.

If I were a superhero I would be Wonder Woman.

A secret talent I have is speaking fluent French (growing up in a French home).

One thing people don’t know about me is that I have never drunk a soda in my entire life.