Emerging Leaders in Agricultural Health Recognized

Feygele Jacobs and Yajaira Johnson-Esparza

The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health Geiger Gibson Program recognized three Emerging Leaders in Agricultural Health on May 7 in a ceremony at the 2019 Agricultural Worker Health Conference. The event was sponsored by the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) and held this year in Albuquerque, N.M.

The annual awards went to Raymond Aguilar, MD, of the Sea Mar Community Health Centers in Seattle, Wash., Allison Jackson, M.S., of Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services in Ridgeland, S.C., and Yajaira Johnson-Esparza, PhD, of Salud Family Health Centers in Commerce City, Colo. The awards were presented by Feygele Jacobs, President and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation, whose ongoing gift sustains the Geiger Gibson Program; Rachel Gonzales Hanson, CEO of Community Health Development in Uvalde, Texas and Geiger Gibson Program Distinguished Visitor; and Daniel R. Hawkins, Geiger Gibson Program Distinguished Visitor Emeritus and senior counselor to NACHC CEO Tom Van Coverden.

“This is a humbling experience. I am privileged, I’m honored,” Johnson-Esparza said after the ceremony. “For me, it’s extremely gratifying going into work and working with the communities we serve knowing that we are able to work toward their health and we can make a bit of a difference in their lives. It’s a blessing working at a community health center.” (Johnson-Esparza is pictured to the right in the photo above with Jacobs.)

In her role as director of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), Dr. Johnson-Esparza collaborates with organizational leadership to expand MAT services across Salud’s network, where MAT will soon be offered at nine of the centers’ clinic locations. She is actively involved in multiple opioid abuse prevention groups across the state of Colorado including IT MATTRS, a statewide practice innovation initiative seeking to train practices and providers on opioid use disorder and MAT. In part of her role with the initiative, Johnson-Esparza, a psychologist, co-authored a provider training curriculum for effective treatment and care for individuals with opioid abuse disorders that is incorporated by several community health centers and mental health centers across the state.

Growing up as a migrant agricultural worker himself, Dr. Aguilar, who was one of Sea Mar’s six pioneering medical residents, has taken on plenty of roles to ensure an improvement in the quality of life and medical care access for the same population. In addition, he mentors students of all ages and is locally and nationally involved with the Latino Medical Student Association, supporting numerous underrepresented students on their way to become physicians.

“I didn’t do [what I have done] by myself,” said Aguilar (pictured in the photo below). “It was all the mentors, all the role models that I found along the way, who helped guide me, who helped coach me as I did all the things that I did. Now I am in a position where I can really help people and it’s all been worth it. It’s been a lot of work but I truly love what I do. I wake up happy to go to work, regardless of the long hours.”

Jackson was recognized as an Emerging Leader for the second time in as many months after she became one of the 12 community health center workers to receive the award at the 2019 NACHC P&I Forum in Washington, D.C., in late March. A family nurse practitioner who serves as the School-Based Health Center Director at BJHCHS, she oversees the healthcare needs of school-aged patients at nine sites. Earlier in her career, she implemented a school-based telemedicine program to meet the demand from the partnering school district. In addition, Jackson leads staff trainings on fiscal responsibilities of various complexity to ensure the smooth operations of the centers.

The Emerging Leader Awards were established in 2007 to highlight and share with the health center community the accomplishments of a new generation of health center leaders. One or more Emerging Leaders are selected annually by the Program, with the assistance of an advisory group comprised of health center leaders. The key qualities of leadership highlighted by this award are commitment, motivation, professional achievement, and leadership qualities that together further the health center mission.