The link between hosting immunization clinics in an elementary school and having great community involvement is the eminently important connection these institutions have with members of the community. It was clearly demonstrated when CHEER helped organize a community vaccination event on October 25 at the local New Hampshire Estates Elementary School (NHEES) clinic.
NHEES is a Title 1 school and currently serves a large Latino population, with 75.4% of children reporting being Hispanic/Latinx. They also have a FARM rate of 92.4%, according to the 2020-2021 MCPS At-a-Glance Report.
It was a wonderful opportunity to confirm the value that community health workers (CHWs) bring and how valuable they are in addressing health care gaps, beyond COVID-19, in the Latinx community. They are community experts at navigating a complex and inequitable health care system that does not serve immigrants well.
With that purpose, I want to share four stories that we lived in our event. In each of them, the intervention of a community health worker played a fundamental role.
#1: Promoting bilingual and Latino-friendly services
One of the families who came to the clinic brought with them a teenager who had recently been released as an unaccompanied minor from a detention center in Texas. It is required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine during the process in the detention center. However, in this case, he did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine card, but rather a full-page letter in Spanish indicating that he had received the vaccine.
The letter did not have the lot number of the vaccine they had received, so one of CHEER’s community health workers took the time to review this letter with the pharmacist because the lot number is needed to confirm that the person had received the vaccine.
After about 10 minutes of back and forth with the pharmacist, the young man was able to receive his second dose of vaccine. While at the clinic, CHEER also contacted the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to obtain the teen’s immunization records because when we spoke with his guardian, he mentioned that they did not have this information.
This encounter demonstrated not only the critical importance of having bilingual staff, but also having people in clinics who are familiar with these types of unaccompanied minor cases, to ensure that information is communicated appropriately with clinical partners. .
#2: Walking new immigrants through the system
The CHWs also participated in street canvassing to notify the community about the clinic taking place in their community. I also followed. While speaking with a family at the apartment complex near NHEES, they mentioned that they had arrived in Maryland just three weeks earlier and had a three-year-old daughter.
Since they had not seen a primary care physician or pediatrician, one of CHEER’s community health workers was able to schedule an appointment to help them obtain health insurance through the Care for Kids program. When I mentioned this family to the director of NHEES, he notified me that there are a few spaces left for the program they have at the school for three-year-olds, so I passed on the family’s information to sign up for the program.
#3: Connecting people to resources
Another family that came for their first dose was one that arrived when the clinic opened at 10:00 am. M. When I spoke with the person who was to receive his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, he mentioned that he was concerned about taking the COVID-19 vaccine because he was taking medication for high blood pressure.
I was able to talk to the pharmacist to confirm he was okay and asked the person if he had a primary care doctor. He said no and that he hadn’t seen any because he doesn’t have health insurance. We were able to write down his information and one of our community health workers followed him up to enroll him in Montgomery Cares, a health insurance program in Montgomery County for those who are not eligible for Medicaid.
These scenarios represent real events that many members of the Latinx community face on a daily basis in Maryland and specifically in Montgomery County. They are afraid to get vaccinated because they don’t have access to primary care, which is a broader problem that our CHWs have been able to address through these clinics.
#4: Follow up and take care of our community
Six of the families who came to the clinic on October 25 were community members who had previously participated in a vaccination clinic that CHEER held in conjunction with Holy Cross Health at the Greenwood Apartments. Once again, CHEER community health workers were able to connect the dots between events and community members by making phone calls during the NHEES clinic to families who received their first dose at other clinics that had also been hosted by CHEER.