Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, co-founder of LATIN-19 in Durham, told U.S. House members Tuesday that the efforts of community health workers were important to increasing vaccination rates in Latino neighborhoods.
The pandemic also showed the value of bringing health care out of institutional settings and into neighborhoods, familiar locations such as the Latino Credit Union, “and other places people already consider trustworthy,” she said.
Martinez-Bianchi testified Tuesday at a U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor joint subcommittee hearing on “How to Save a Life: Successful Models for Protecting Communities from COVID-19.”
LATIN-19 formed in March 2020 to get information about COVID-19 testing to Latino communities. It has coordinated and helped sponsor vaccine clinics, and convenes weekly discussions between health care providers, community health workers, state and local health officials that are focused on erasing barriers to testing, vaccination, and treatment.
Building community trust is important, she said, as is the work of people speaking directly with residents.
“How and from whom people get their information is key,” she said.
Latinos have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Latinx workers are overrepresented in frontline jobs, and more likely to live in multigenerational homes, Martinez-Bianchi said. This came with “the systemic exclusion from access to health services, health information networks, and health insurance, even when eligible.”
North Carolina’s Latino residents account for 18% of COVID-19 cases, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Latinos are 11% of the state population, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.
Durham County Health Department says 27,000 Latino residents have been vaccinated. Durham’s Latino population reached 50,104 in 2020, according to the U.S. Census.
In her written testimony, Marinez-Bianchi said early testing locations were in white neighborhoods.
“Testing resources for COVID-19 followed existing clinic locations and thus testing sites were initially implemented in affluent and predominantly non-Hispanic, white neighborhoods, away from predominantly Hispanic/Latinx and Black communities.”
“And even when institutions utilized federal funding to offer COVID-19 testing free for anyone regardless of insurance or immigration status, many people with the greatest need remained disconnected from the local healthcare system and these resources went underutilized. For many Hispanic/Latinx long-time Durham residents sick with COVID-19, their hospitalization was their first interaction with the health system, indicating decades of disconnect from the health system at the community level.”