For the New York-based co-founders of Informada — a newly launched newsletter and website with a collection of information and products curated to empower “the modern Latina professional.”
At the core of Informada — meaning “informed” in Spanish — is a reckoning with the climate of mass misinformation and mistrust of medical and public health institutions. Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez and her co-founder, Eden Pontz, don’t blame patients or consumers of information for either. Medical and media professionals often ask for a lot while doing little to build the necessary trust from historically underserved communities, they told Epicenter.
“We say, ‘There’s a new vaccine, go get it, and keep us all safe,’” Bracho-Sanchez said. “We don’t do enough on an everyday level to then be able to say, ‘You know, we’ve been here, we’ve helped you with a number of things. This is the latest information. This is why we recommend this vaccine.’”
Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician at Columbia University, and Pontz, the executive producer and director of digital content for the Center for Parent & Teen Communication, worked together on the family communications front. They had taken stock of how the pandemic and social media had changed the landscape of health and wellness promotion.
When patients’ families came to Bracho-Sanchez with fears around Covid-19, she would ask them where they’d gotten the information that had raised concerns. WhatsApp and Facebook were two top sources of misinformation. This reflected a gap — in experts speaking to everyday people in these online spaces — she encountered daily as a physician.
A little skepticism of news, information and institutions is good, Pontz told Epicenter. It gets people “out there, checking other resources and then learning to be sure that your resources can be trusted to give credible information,” Pontz said. People need to also apply this skepticism to social media influencers, celebrities and anyone else who might influence their choices, she added.
“If we understand what the motives are behind information that’s out there, it allows us to ask better questions, especially in the health and wellness world,” Pontz said.
They also understood the importance of sharing their stories — as working professionals, as moms, as “news junkies” and, in the case of Bracho-Sanchez, as a Latina and immigrant — to help others feel seen.
How Dr. Bracho-Sanchez became a communicator: “I grew up in Venezuela waiting for my uncle to come home to tell us stories.”
Before Bracho-Sanchez became a pediatrician or took care of a child of her own, she saw healthcare through the prism of her childhood in Caracas, Venezuela. The 2010 crisis and ensuing hyperinflation hadn’t yet plagued her home country with starvation, disease and crime. Still, seeking better opportunities for her and her two younger siblings, her parents had migrated to the United States in 2002, when she was 14. (The family moved back to the U.S. in 2008 after a two-year return to Venezuela).
Growing up outside the U.S., Bracho-Sanchez didn’t have the experience of immigrant children serving as unofficial interpreters and navigators of the healthcare system for older family members, she told Epicenter. Instead, she had stories from her tío, a physician.
“He lived with us while he was in training, and the stories that he would come home with survival stories of families coming together, stories of a really fascinating science helping people,” Bracho-Sanchez said. “I grew up in Venezuela waiting for my uncle to come home to tell us stories.”
This interest in people’s stories and a desire to help drove her to pursue medicine and eventually health communication. The complexity of the U.S. healthcare system when she and her family later encountered it only made that desire stronger. Still, it was a far cry from the experiences of those bilingual children interpreter-navigators, she said.
“So I [was] in a position of helping my family navigate from a much more informed and empowered point of view than many immigrant children,” Bracho-Sanchez said. “It is very humbling.”
She lauded the on-the-ground efforts of social workers and community health workers to help people navigate multiple systems — frontline public health workers who, as Epicenter has reported, serve social needs as diverse as housing, food and child care assistance. Underserved NYC families must take care of these basic needs before they can address some of the medical issues she brings up as their pediatrician, she said.
“I’ve really learned from my families and from these community champions that it all has to start with a network of support, and truly covering and addressing of essentials, and people need to live their lives,” Bracho-Sanchez said. “And then we can talk about vaccines, healthy eating, sleep, making it to the dentist, and all of the other things that we know are important for kids.”
The story of their partnership
Bracho-Sanchez and Pontz’s mutual appreciation for spaces that helped build better informed, empowered people — and a grasp of what was lacking in the media and public health climate — were key ingredients in the Informada partnership. The idea for the collaboration came to them during a conversation on another topic.
“And we sort of just said, ‘What if we did this? What if we really try to bridge this gap and to create this for an audience that nobody’s speaking to?’” Bracho-Sanchez said.
The idea was to create an informed space — facilitated by professionals who could help people navigate the onslaught of news and develop media literacy skills — focused on Latina professionals and mothers who felt like they weren’t being seen or heard, or who were just overwhelmed.
Bracho-Sanchez had done some training in health journalism during a fellowship with Stanford University and CNN, and had written a public health vertical for parents, but she wanted to partner with someone with more extensive journalism experience that could complement her background as a Latina clinician and whose work ethic she admired.
Around that time, Pontz was penning articles for parents on teen issues. Market research ensued. They also reflected on how they could make it meaningful and sustainable. Bracho-Sanchez, who likes to say that “every Latina knows a pretty good community,” tested their idea out in her circles. She asked female family members, Latino colleagues, mom friends and families of patients whether they would read a newsletter like that. A common response: “How much?”
With her future co-founder doing the same in her own circles, they realized that, while Informada would include health information and news, there was an appetite for so much more.
“When we looked at the people around us and the amount of time and brain space people take” figuring out news they could use, they wanted to supply them with the things they should know about, things they could laugh about, and things they could learn to feel good about, Pontz said. And they would do it all from the perspectives of women and professionals who were serious about gaining trust in these spaces.
“I really do think the name of the game is building community,” Bracho-Sanchez said.
This is part of a series of articles exploring health inequities in New York that is funded by a grant from the Commonwealth Fund.