There’s never been a more challenging time to be a nurse. Independence Blue Cross (Independence) recognizes their tremendous sacrifices and contributions. For a third year, Independence is proud to honor outstanding nurses in our region through the Celebrate Caring campaign. As part of the campaign, we’re highlighting our winners and finalists and how their bravery, compassion, and dedication has made a difference in the lives of so many, when they needed it the most.
Cookie Sanchez, BSN, RN, BAYADA Home Health Care, remembers being a patient in the hospital when she was 12 years old. While it was a scary situation, what stood out to her the most were the nurses.
“I saw the compassion the nurses had for me and my family,” she said. “And I knew that I wanted to take care of others the way they took care of me.”
Those nurses’ passion for caring inspired Cookie to be a nurse, and helped launched a 27-year career helping others.
Breaking Down Barriers
Cookie’s nursing journey has included positions as a candy striper, home health care aide, licensed practical nurse, registered nurse in the intensive care unit, and case manager. Five years ago, the opportunity to work in the Hispanic community as a bilingual case manager presented itself — Cookie jumped at the chance.
“As a nurse, I have seen a lot of disparities in the Hispanic community. I saw patients coming back and forth to the hospital with the same thing,” she said. “I knew they needed education and one-on-one support. In this role, I can do that.”
A big part of her job is breaking down the language barrier for her Hispanic patients. As a Spanish-speaking nurse, Cookie has seen how language can affect health outcomes.
“Communication and translation is so important. You don’t want to miss important information,” said Cookie. “You bridge that initial gap when you can communicate with your patients. You can see the relief in their eyes. They’ll often say, ‘You speak Spanish? Oh my god. Thank you. Please tell the doctor this.’”
Answering the Call
Once the pandemic hit, Cookie’s role was even more important as she became a lifeline for many of her patients.
“We had to go into clients’ homes because they didn’t want to go to the emergency room or hospitals,” she said. “The pandemic was scary, but we had to continue to take care of our clients and keep them safe and healthy at home.”
Cookie’s greatest challenge now is getting more Hispanic patients vaccinated against COVID-19. While Hispanics have been hit hard by the pandemic, vaccination rates among Hispanics are trending lower than rates among other demographics.
To support this effort, she’s joined Unidos Contra COVID (United Against COVID), a collective of Latino doctors and nurses in the region whose goal is to bring vaccines into the heart of Black and Latino communities. By building trust and providing culturally-competent care and education, Unidos Contra COVID hopes to vaccinate patients who would otherwise not get vaccinated.
Advocating for Hispanic Nurses
As Cookie continues her work in the Hispanic community, she knows that engaging more Hispanic nurses is important to help close health care gaps and reduce health disparities in this community. Currently, Hispanics make up about 18.5 percent of the U.S. population, yet only 4.8 percent of nurses are Hispanic or Latino.
“A person who has little in common with you cannot adequately advocate for your benefit,” Cookie told AL DÍA newspaper in a 2019 interview. “To be both a bilingual and bicultural nurse is an essential necessity to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services in areas such as Philadelphia, where a growing number of Hispanic patients either do not speak or cannot communicate comfortably in English.”
To address this issue, Cookie has been actively involved with the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) for ten years to help support and promote nursing as a career to Hispanic students.
“The mission of NAHN is to be a voice for the community,” she said. “We offer a mentorship program and raise money to give scholarships to nursing students. We also go to middle schools and high schools and try to recruit students and encourage them to get into science programs. We do what we can to help them move forward and let them know they have support as nurses.”
Independence is donating $2,500 to nonprofit organizations on behalf of each Celebrate Caring winner. Cookie is using her donation to support three organizations that are close to her heart including the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Philadelphia Chapter, and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses Philadelphia Chapter.