An 11-foot inflatable model of the COVID-19 virus was recently on display outside Community Health Choice in Harris County’s Precinct 2. The gray bubble with reddish entrails was a not-so-subtle advertisement for the free vaccines inside.
“Our job is not to talk people into getting the vaccine, our job is to make sure they know there is an opportunity to get it,” said Chara Bowie, the new director of community health and social services for Commissioner Adrian Garcia.
Bowie, who was worked for Harris County for several years, is a licensed professional counselor with a background in family therapy. She has easily transitioned from the front lines of the health crisis care into her new role as prevention manager.
A 2019 study by Harris County inspired Garcia and Bowie to seriously consider the relatively poor health of residents across Precinct 2, including the East Aldine area.
“Unfortunately, Precinct 2 (of the county’s four) had the highest rate of people with chronic disease; we had the second highest rate of obesity; we had the highest rate of uninsured folks,” Bowie said. “We could correlate that because we had the highest number of high school dropouts; we also had the lowest median income.”
“And, in 2019, 30 percent of our car crashes had to do with drugs and alcohol,” Bowie added.
To Garcia and Bowie, it was clear that existing health and social services agencies were not connecting with residents. Some of the “disconnect” was due to a shortage of public transportation as well as a lack of public information about available services.
Bowie’s role is to provide better services to the precinct’s 1 million or so residents by fostering communications among the government agencies.
“What the health study showed is we really need to focus on what we need to do to collaborate and work with the existing services we now have,” Bowie said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a large part of her job has been helping area residents get access to vaccines. A pilot program included identifying and vaccinating dozens of elderly residents who were homebound.
She also worked closely with the longshoremen’s union to help members get access to vaccines, as well as one local home-builder whose construction workers were afraid they were ineligible for vaccines due to their immigrant status. All residents are eligible.
Her long-term goal of improving the community’s overall health includes a health improvement “university.” Residents interested in “enrolling” are given cards that promote healthy foods and activities, and are then directed to health facilities to “graduate” to the next level.
East Aldine is not home to fancy spas or many fitness centers or gyms, Bowie noted. But for exercise, there are 17 area parks operated by Harris County that include playgrounds, soccer fields and walking trails.
“Just by encouraging people to use those cards to mark off their activities can inspire them to keep moving up to the next level,” Bowie said.
Before working for Harris County, Bowie’s background in counseling put her on the front lines with families and children with severe mental health issues. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from Louisiana Tech University and worked for Depelchin Children’s Center and the Salvation Army, as well as an administrator for a Canadian-based mental health care program.
Bowie previously worked for Precinct 2 as manager of senior programs for its community centers. She is married, has two teen-age daughters and is working toward a doctoral degree at Houston Baptist University. Her “family” includes two adult children of a deceased close friend.
But Bowie said has no trouble maintaining a work-life balance.
“Right now, I just excited to be working to improve health within Precinct 2.” she said.
Bowie still takes time to counsel people and listen to their concerns about life during – and after – the pandemic. She knows, for example, that some seniors have been reluctant to start rejoining the popular recreational bus trips offered by Precinct 2.
“Just being through a pandemic is something that most of us have never been through,” Bowie said. “So, the anxiety or fear that some people might have about starting to get out again is a tough question. It’s different for each person.”
For now, the best advice she offers is for residents to stay informed, follow the advice of health professionals about vaccines and wearing masks, and do what they feel comfortable doing.
— By Anne Marie Kilday