Norma Hernández may lack health care experience but makes up for it with organizational leadership, a tool she hopes will help in her new role as executive director of The Health Center.
The nonprofit provides free, onsite physical and mental health services to students in the Walla Walla School District, according to a release. Hernández was named leader of the agency last week.
The first clinic came to Lincoln High School in 2009 and expanded to Blue Ridge Elementary School, Pioneer Middle School and Walla Walla High School.
Hernández starts her new role immediately, with the long-term goal of reaching more students in the Walla Walla Valley to help them with their health needs so as adults they can make better decisions and move in a different direction, she said.
“I wasn’t really worried about not having medical experience because I knew that they had a very strong staff already,” she said, mentioning former Executive Director Lindsay Engh created a strong foundation. “They just needed somebody who’s going to be able to come in and run the organization, take it to its next level.”
Her goal is to get the Center into every school in the Valley and have the support of the school districts, she said.
Hernández spent more than 20 years in the credit union industry, most recently as Blue Mountain Credit Union’s executive vice president.
She is mayor of College Place, served on the finance committee for Providence St. Mary Foundation and as a board member for Community Council, Walla Walla Latino Alliance and others.
“Norma’s expertise with and dedication to the underserved in our community lines up with the mission of The Health Center to ensure all students in our communities have access to the health care they deserve,” said Jolene Riggs, chairperson of The Health Center’s board.
Hernández, thrilled to take the helm, speaks Spanish fluently, and the board is hoping it allows the organization to further reach students in the Spanish-speaking community, she said.
She hopes to get telehealth, a service they began using during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide virtual mental health support and conduct medical appointments, really up and running with more students using it.
“The hope is that we can help them navigate this new way of life in a better way,” she said, hoping it will help students figure out what they need at home to feel like they’re being a part of an educational system.
“There’s a lot of families out there — and I came from one, that’s why I understand this — they don’t have insurance or they don’t have the understanding of the health care system.”
She said this results in students having health issues that could have been addressed early on.
“Expanding the awareness of the programs is something that I think will really make a change in the community,” she said.