Getting to Know: Omar A. Escontrías, DrPH, MPH, NHC Vice President of Research, Education, and Programs

The following is a Q&A to get to know the latest addition to the National Health Council team, Dr. Omar A. Escontrías:

Putting Patients First (PPF) Blog: How did you first hear about the National Health Council and what made you want to become part of the NHC team?

I first heard of the National Health Council through a former colleague of mine. Upon reviewing its mission, I knew the NHC was the right fit for me. I have spent over 15 years of my career in public health research and health policy that has led me to advocate and work with local and national coalitions to address chronic diseases in under-resourced communities. Additionally, I was thrilled that health equity, which is one of my many passions, was a focal point of the 2022-2004 NHC Strategic Plan and embedded into the organization’s policy matrix.

PPF Blog: You lived in Arizona for many years before coming to the Washington D.C. area in 2017. How has that transition been, and do you consider yourself an official Washingtonian yet?

Washington, D.C. is a melting pot of many cultures and diversity. I love it! I believe since the first time I set foot on the Metro, I considered myself an official Washingtonian. I had to quickly learn the rules of escalators and commuters. I will forever miss the beautiful Arizona sunsets (minus the 115+ degree summer weather) and the desert diaspora that makes the Grand Canyon State unique. D.C. has become my new home and I enjoy experiencing the fast-paced lifestyle. However, Arizona will always be my home far away from home.

PPF Blog: You’ve served as Board Director for the Mountain Park Health Center in Arizona and the Arizona Diabetes Leadership Council and Coalition. Can you talk about how important it was for you to serve on these boards and the role your cultural background played in shaping your career?

Understanding that patients from Historically and Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic (HURE) groups face tremendous barriers and challenges in our health care ecosystem, it was important for me to join boards that are passionate about alleviating these challenges. As a proud bilingual, bicultural, and first-generation immigrant from México, my lived experiences shaped my career trajectory in health care. Specifically, the manifestation of type 2 diabetes in my family allowed me to witness the structural inequities and language barriers that many encounter in this complex health ecosystem.

PPF Blog: Working as part of the NHC’s Research & Programs team, what are you most looking forward to working on this year?

I look forward to meeting and working with our members to advance the NHC’s research and programs agenda with a unique public health lens. Also, it is my goal that our patient-centered research informs our policy and patient advocacy initiatives in alignment with our Strategic Plan. In addition, the dissemination and implementation of our research to diverse audiences is one item I look forward to.  

PFF Blog: Part of the NHC’s mission is to help bring consistent and comprehensive health care coverage to marginalized communities. What are some of the health care inequalities in the Hispanic community that you’ve witnessed firsthand and how have those experiences impacted you?

Access to care is a major health inequity in the Hispanic/Latinx community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 18% of Hispanics/Latinx were uninsured in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hispanic/Latinx community also experience higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer. English- and Spanish-speaking Hispanics/Latinx present social disadvantages, such as language barriers that may contribute to poor health care coverage. I recall that from a very young age, I had to serve as a translator for my mother during her visits to the physician and pharmacist. Treatment options in Hispanic/Latinx patients are often rooted in the cultural value of familismo, which takes into account the entire family on life changes and decision making.

PPF Blog: Tell us something about you personally. What do you do outside of work? 

I am a foodie. I enjoy trying out new brunch and dinner places in the D.C. That brings me to my next point, my chipotle turkey chili recipe is amazing and one of my favorite dishes to make. Lastly, I love spending time with my family (including our four-legged dog son, Luis Miguel or LuisMi), and going to the movie theater. There is nothing better than the smell of popcorn.