As the pandemic continues, research has shown that certain demographic groups are disproportionately affected by socioeconomic constraints such as insufficient healthcare access and housing insecurity. The Native American, African American and Latinx populations in particular have been affected the most by these constraints.
For example, Dr. Mark Fleming II, a research surgical resident at the University’s Health System, recounted in a Twitter post Jan. 4 witnessing an elderly Latinx woman be rejected for a COVID-19 test because she did not schedule an appointment. When the woman tried to negotiate for an appointment, she was denied the opportunity, despite the “walk-in appointments” advertised by the Health system.
“This woman was denied basic access to something that U.Va. claims they’re very good at,” Fleming said on Twitter.
Fleming further explained that he was able to gain access to a walk-in testing slot without scheduling an appointment, likely due to his status as a health care provider. In the meantime, the elderly Latinx woman was consistently denied a test.
As a result of these barriers, local resources such as the U.Va. Latino Health Initiative and Sin Barreras attempt to pursue health promotion and disease prevention with services geared towards assisting the Charlottesville Latinx population in alleviating some of the obstacles which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Latinx population in Charlottesville comprises approximately 6 percent of the city’s population and the nationwide population is predicted to grow in the future.
Max Luna, cardiologist and director of LHI, recently oversaw the adjustment of its programs to cater to the needs of the community which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
One of the programs enacted by LHI is the Compañeros Training and Empowerment Program, which trains community health workers with an understanding for Latinx culture to work with healthcare professionals in order to deliver educational material on relevant health topics. These topics now include internet access, safe access to COVID-19 testing, access to medical care, the importance of the flu vaccination and Latinx-friendly locations, which are typically places with language-competent workers and an understanding of the Hispanic culture, such as The Church of the Incarnation in Charlottesville.
Another program instituted by LHI is La Clinica Latina, which partners with the Charlottesville Free Clinic to provide free primary healthcare to Latinx community members twice a month through language proficient physicians and students.
Luna said that it is important to have language-competent workers to help better inform and care for Latinx patients during check-ups, which is exemplified by the culturally proficient U.Va. medical students and physicians working at the clinic twice a month.
“Any patient that prefers or only speaks the Spanish language feels they are really at home with language competent [U.Va. medical] students,” Luna said. “From the front desk to the nursing station, physicians [and] students work together in a room attending a patient's need.”
Since April of this year, however, the onset of the pandemic has increased usage of telemedicine as a safer option to replace in-person appointments, making it less feasible to have language competent students interacting with Latinx patients at their appointments.
Another constituent program of LHI is the Cardiovascular Initiative for the Latino Community Health. The program initially provided risk assessment for cardiovascular disease to hundreds of Latinx community members and has now modified to provide predominantly COVID testing in partnership with Sin Barreras.
Sin Barreras is a nonprofit organization which has been educating and supporting the Charlottesville Latinx immigrant community since 2012.
Javier Raudales, client service coordinator at Sin Barreras, speaks of the organization’s response to disparities such as the elevated level of cases and financial hardships in Charlottesville Latinx community caused primarily by the social determinants of health.
“Our focus has been addressing and trying to help our community as best as we can during these really rough times,” Raudales said.
LHI’s fourth program is Tardes De Salud Familiar En Southwood, and previously provided monthly health literacy events in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. It has now transitioned to a monthly-distributed, student-driven newsletter which provides information on safety during the pandemic.
“This time we talked about how to differentiate COVID-19, the common cold and the flu,” Luna said. “We also talked about how to stay safe during the holidays, and also described a new COVID safety mandate by the Virginia governor.”
The latest edition of the newsletter also included a comprehensive set of COVID-19 Apoyo e Información resources for the Latinx community made by Hanni Nabahe, a research librarian for commerce and economics at the University. Nabahe worked to compile multiple layers of COVID-related information from the national, state and city authorities.
“I started the guide to try to have all that information and I was thinking about providers of services, so [the Latinx community members] don't have to waste time figuring out where all this information is and can just start using it,” Nabahe said.
Luna and Raudales also spoke of a weekly radio program on the University student-run WXTJ station, which LHI and Sin Barreras also collaborate on. The weekly “Poder Latino” program provides a platform for Latinx student leaders and organizations to reach the youth as well as educate the Latinx community on current topics related to culture and health.
“That was a way to get … the Latinx community at U.Va. and the immigrant community in the wider area together to try to not only provide entertainment but also have an informative program in the community's primary language,” Raudales said.
Luna, Raudales and student leaders further expressed their gratitude to the University community of students, faculty and staff for collectively being sensitive about spreading the virus to local communities and for volunteering time to help with the various programs.
Elizabeth Aramayo, third-year student in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and outreach co-chair of the Latinx Leadership Institute comments on the importance of volunteering and the obligation to give back.
“We want to help organize ourselves because we as students definitely take up a lot of space in the Charlottesville community, so the least we could do is be there for them and help them out because that's our responsibility,” Aramayo said.
As the winter season continues, these support programs for the Charlottesville Latinx community also emphasize the demand for more volunteers and support. Potential volunteers for the U.Va. LHI and those interested in volunteering with Sin Barreras can contact the organizations through their websites.
Raudales said there is high demand for their services and stressed the urgency for more volunteers and donations to help the community cope throughout the winter months.
“[Donating] does have an outsized impact to a community that I think is still underserved, still slightly hidden either by their own choice, or by realities around them,” Raudales said.
Correction: A previous version of the article mistakenly referred to research librarian Hanni Nabahe as Hanni Labahe. This article has been updated to reflect the proper spelling of Nabahe’s last name.