Published May 12, 2021
Johns Hopkins Medicine is dedicated to providing equitable care to all.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Johns Hopkins Medicine has focused on providing critical information and access to care for Latino community members, and, most recently, we have put enormous effort into offering the COVID-19 vaccine to our Latino neighbors in locations that are familiar and easy to access.
Initially, vaccine supply was extremely limited, and we had very little insight as to how much supply we would receive weekly from the government. Considering these challenges, we took a methodical approach to providing equitable access to the vaccine to vulnerable populations — with one area of focus being our Latino community members.
Johns Hopkins Medicine has identified limited English-proficient Latino patients as a vulnerable group at high risk for COVID-19. They may delay seeking care due to many issues, including demanding work schedules, language barriers, and concerns related to citizenship.
“COVID-19 has had a profound impact on communities of color,” says Kathleen Page M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-director of the health equity center Centro SOL. “The Latino community has been especially heavily hit. When I talk to these patients, they often tell me the same story. When everything shut down, they had to continue to work because they were essential workers. Many work in construction, the food industry or child care. Many had to keep working, because as undocumented immigrants they weren’t eligible for unemployment. This means that they had higher levels of exposure and also couldn’t always find the time to seek care if they did get sick.”
Through partnerships with Centro SOL and the Esperanza Center, a comprehensive Latino resource center, John Hopkins Medicine helps to promote health equity for Latinos in collaboration with faith and community organizations. Since June 2020, Johns Hopkins has run a coronavirus testing site at the Sacred Heart Church staffed by Spanish-speaking community health workers who register community members for testing and provide results over the phone to those who do not have internet access or who are undocumented.
If a community member has tested positive, the health workers refer them to resources such as food and cash assistance — or to shelter in a hotel, if needed — as part of the public-private partnership in which Johns Hopkins is an anchor institution. Patients without a primary care provider are also referred to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Ambulatory Response Team Clinic or to Spanish-speaking doctors who are part of Juntos, a collaborative effort between the Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Diversity and Inclusion, JHM Language Services, and Centro SOL.
Community health workers also go out into local neighborhoods and talk about vaccine hesitancy and some of the reasons behind it. They answer questions about safety and myths, such as the misinformation that those who are tested or vaccinated are being reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We have found that the Latino community is eager to get vaccinated but also afraid of the potential side effects of the vaccines. As such, we have partnered with the Esperanza Center to set up a COVID call-in line to answer questions and help people register for vaccination appointments, including at the pop-up Johns Hopkins vaccination clinic at the Sacred Heart Church.
Through visits with community members in locations where they spend their time, Johns Hopkins health workers have also conducted focus groups to gather information about the community’s needs. Our team has gone to local businesses such as beauty salons, restaurants and home improvement or construction businesses to ask people what they know about testing and the vaccine, and to hand out information pamphlets in Spanish.
“To access Latinos you need to go out on foot. People work all day long and do not know the available services,” says community health worker Alejandra Flores-Miller. “The ones that are hard to reach are those people who work at the construction sites, restaurants or those who clean, and they are exposed in their professions. Many are young but the risk is still very high because their living conditions are often crowded.
Johns Hopkins Medicine has also conducted town halls and forums in Spanish to talk about COVID-19. We launched a Spanish language web portal to consolidate and promote COVID-related content in Spanish. We are also working on a web-based toolkit that trusted community organizations can print out to share facts with their members.
In partnership with local health departments, our community health workers set up several pop-up vaccine clinics, including one at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baltimore, which is located in the middle of a Latino neighborhood.
“We’re going outside the traditional walls of the hospital and meeting the community where they are,” says Ben Bigelow, acting associate director of operations for COVID vaccine administration. “We’ve built up a lot of trust in the community this way, since we’ve been doing it for more than a year.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine will continue to do everything possible to ensure those who want a vaccine have the opportunity to get one. The goal is to provide all of our neighbors with COVID facts, and vaccine information and access. It is our mission and privilege to serve all our communities equitably and compassionately.