When COVID-19 hit Hispanic neighborhoods disproportionately hard, we pulled together community partners, our teammates and up-to-the-minute data to create real-life solutions.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | 3 years ago

Caring for Hispanic Neighbors During COVID-19

A global pandemic requires community-level solutions.

One disease can affect different populations differently: ages, races, ethnicities and socio-economic statuses. Of the many lessons of COVID-19, this has been among the loudest.

During May, a disproportionate number of young Hispanics in the Charlotte area tested positive for COVID-19. While Hispanic residents account for 13.6 percent of Mecklenburg County’s population, they represented more than a third of its COVID-19 cases. Ninety percent of those cases were among people under 60 years old.

Several reasons explain the vulnerability that young Hispanics face to COVID-19. This population tends to have a higher number of essential workers who can’t work remotely or take sick time. They’re more likely to live in multi-generational homes. When the best protection against disease is isolation, these factors make protection hard, if not impossible.

Just as one disease can affect different populations differently, one solution cannot serve all groups equally. A global pandemic requires hyper-local action. Atrium Health began intense work to identify programs and initiatives to address the disparities.

“We need to understand what’s happening at the community level … and we implement programming around that,” says Brisa Hernandez, a community health director at Atrium Health.

Hernandez, a first-generation American and daughter of Mexican immigrants, has worked in and studied community health in Charlotte for more than a decade. She believes that a powerful community health program relies on close partnerships, exhaustive data and a clear plan of action – as well as curiosity, humility and willingness to adapt. Those pillars helped guide Atrium Health toward steps of action to care for Charlotte’s Hispanic neighbors.

Promises of Care to our Hispanic Neighbors

Our programs to help our Hispanic neighbors during COVID-19 rest on six promises of care:

  1. We deliver care that comes to our patients. Our mobile COVID-19 testing unit brings screening, testing and social services to communities with large Hispanic populations, at no cost and with no appointment required. Patients can walk, drive or bike right up to our mobile unit and speak with healthcare providers and social workers who can connect them to the care and services they need. This isn’t just about COVID-19, however. If our neighbors want to talk about nutrition, food scarcity or chronic health conditions, we want to have those conversations and guide them to local resources.
  1. We share your language. Our mobile COVID-19 testing unit has a Spanish interpreter on board, and our providers have a virtual platform that offers translation services for more than 200 languages.
  1. We protect our patients’ confidentiality. We do not share a patient’s immigration status or report if a patient is undocumented. Our job is to offer care and support to everyone who comes to us.
  1. We offer care that works with patients’ schedules. We understand how hard it is to schedule appointments around long workdays and family responsibilities. With our mobile sites, offices, clinics and virtual appointments, patients have 24/7 access to our providers so that they can receive care whenever they need it.
  1. We offer care that works with real life. We all can’t work from home or avoid crowds. We all don’t have a mudroom where we can remove shoes and change from our outside clothes to our inside clothes. Atrium Health providers offer advice and help all of our patients minimize exposure risks to COVID-19, whatever their lifestyle, job or residential arrangement.
  1. We create ways to connect hospitalized patients with their families. We understand: We need to be with our loved ones while they’re sick. Atrium Health created a first-of-its-kind team of connection nurses who facilitate private, virtual visits between families and COVID-19 patients to ease the pain of separation. One family used a video chat to sing and pray with their relatives in the ICU for more than an hour. Even our elderly patients love to Facetime their families from their beds!

Relationships, Data and Ground-truthing

Many of these programs are the results of long conversations with trusted community partners. A crisis is not the best time to form relationships, however. This is why Atrium Health has always valued close, community partnerships. When we learned we needed to improve outreach to our Hispanic neighbors, we reached out to partners we’ve spent years working with and invited them to a roundtable discussion. We began from a position of trust and collaboration ­– not introduction.

“As representatives and supporters of the Latino business community in our region, we are incredibly thankful to have our partners at Atrium Health so deeply involved in the safety and health of our community,” said Rocio Gonzalez-Zornosa, executive director of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte. “We applaud that they are not waiting for individuals to come to them, but they are going out into the communities they serve and offer their services ‘for all.’”

Groups like Latin American Coalition, YMCA and Urban Promise told us about their members’ needs. Faith leaders shared the situations with people within their places of worship. We asked our partners what they needed, and they offered to share our messages with their members and congregations to create a unified community response.

In addition, our data teams continually collected new data, mapping emerging COVID-19 hotspots to target our efforts where they were needed most.

“We look at data, and we understand the importance of data, but we also ground-truth it,” Hernandez says, referring to the need to gather first-person observations. “It's a good opportunity to bring the different lived experiences and data together to help us understand what's happening in each community. These communities are changing very quickly, and as a healthcare system, we’re very aware of that and need to be intentional about how we respond.”

The response is working. On a typical week, two mobile units go into two different communities, four or five days a week. Hernandez says that each time the mobile units go out, more and more people get screened and tested.

“It’s been incredible. We’ve made this live-action response and have been willing to step back and think about how we can change the system,” Hernandez says. “We recognize that there are issues in the system that have created some of these health disparities – not on purpose, but they have. And so how are we going to start thinking about the system differently so that we start making some true impact?”

Learn more about how Atrium Health is further educating and informing Hispanic communities on how to stay safe and healthy through a new initiative, “Para Tu Salud” – simply translated to “For Your Health.”


Mobile Coronavirus Testing Center

Unidad Móvil para Pruebas del Coronavirus 

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Stay informed and find care

Enfermedad del Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19): Manténgase informado y encuentre atención médica