Growing Pains: Housing and income stability ‘essential to public health’

Irene Aguilar talks about her new role fighting displacement

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Irene Aguilar has spent her life working in public service, although her roles in the community have changed over time.

Currently, she works as program director for a new effort started by Denver in October — the Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team (NEST). Since taking the job, Aguilar has traveled all over the city, often joking at speaking events that she needs to learn to say no more often.

NEST works to provide resources for low-income businesses and residents that may be at risk for displacement. Aguilar was offered the position after serving two terms as a state senator.

Aguilar, 59, represented District 32, which includes parts of Denver, for two terms from 2011-2018. She was appointed to her first term by a vacancy committee to replace Sen. Chris Romer, who was running for mayor of Denver at the time.

After spending 22 years as a primary care physician at Denver Health, Aguilar said she was drawn to working in government after a commission was created to reform health care in the 2007-2008 session. Aguilar has a daughter who has developmental disabilities and wanted to learn more about how care was handled here versus how it was handled in countries around the world.

“I realized that Medicaid would be her lifeline,” she said of her daughter’s health. “I wanted to become an advocate for health care reform.”

As a physician she had also been working with patients with disabilities and advocating for health-related issues in the Latino population.

When she moved into her new role with NEST, she knew she wanted to look into housing stability and how that affects a person’s overall health. Having stability in income and housing is “essential to public health,” she said.

“In many ways,” Aguilar said, “what I’m doing is I’m still advocating for those same patients.”

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