Richmond City Health District (RCHD) and Chesterfield Health District (CHD) have worked tirelessly at combating the concerning high rates of COVID-19 cases among Latino and Hispanic communities in partnership with the CDC Foundation, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation (RMHF), and a number of local Latino-serving community organizations.
“The pandemic is revealing many disparities in real time,” explains Dr. Alexander P. Samuel, MD, MPH, Director of Chesterfield Health District.
Despite making up only about 6% of Richmond’s population, the Latino community experienced the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases, which hovered around 35% for months. While we’ve seen some improvement, disparities still exist throughout the region. Systemic inequities, such as lack of access to insurance coverage and stigmatization of documentation status, impacted many Latinos’/Hispanics’ ability to access lifesaving healthcare. Additionally, transmission of COVID-19 within Latino and Hispanic communities is high in part because of an over-representation in high risk employment industries. Multi-generational living, a cultural factor that typically has positive financial and resiliency benefits, is not ideal for curbing the spread of COVID-19.
The disparities in Richmond and Chesterfield rang an alarm. With additional guidance and support from CDC, the CDC Foundation, and RMHF, RCHD and La Casa de Salud have built a team of mostly bilingual and bicultural navigators and community health workers to assist Latino Richmonders in getting connected to resources.
This biculturality is key. “Our team can speak much more authentically and directly to the community,” explains Margo Webb, BSW, MPA, Social Work and Navigation Supervisor, “they can speak from a place of lived experience.”
Thus far, navigators and community health workers have connected directly with more than 15% of Richmond’s COVID-positive Latino population, offering comprehensive and individualized support. Beyond hiring a team to provide support, education, and navigation to Latino communities, funds have also been used to provide direct rent, utility, and food assistance. For many, a two-week quarantine would be impossible without these resources.
Another critical aspect of the success of the collaboration is intentionally partnering with organizations that have built community awareness and trust. “Sacred Heart Center has worked in solidarity with and for Richmond’s Latino and Hispanic communities for years,” says Tanya Gonzalez, Executive Director of Sacred Heart Center, “partners have turned to us during the COVID-19 pandemic because of our deep trusting relationships with community members, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to respond.”
“Richmond’s Latino and Hispanic residents are a significant and growing part of this diverse city, and they’ve been disproportionately and unjustly impacted by the pandemic,” said Mayor Stoney. “I’m proud that many city agencies, community-based organizations and community leaders have acknowledged this disparity and work diligently every day to mitigate its effects.”
“The additional resources have benefited Latinos and Hispanics regionally. “[Chesterfield Health District] is now better able to acknowledge the systemic challenges and apply newly accessible resources from the public-private partnership to begin addressing them,” shares Dr. Alexander P. Samuel, MD, MPH, Director of Chesterfield Health District.
Through braiding resources from the CDC Foundation, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation, The Community Foundation, Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Virginia Health Care Foundation, individual donors and the City of Richmond, the project addressing COVID-19 disparities within Latino and Hispanic communities garnered more than $2.2 million in funding.
Scott Blackwell, Chief Community Engagement Officer at The Community Foundation agrees that collaboration is critical when serving community needs. “The multi-organizational collaboration is at the heart of how we approach things at The Community Foundation,” explains Blackwell, “the more foundations and community-based organizations collaborate, the richer the resources we can provide to the communities we serve.”
The innovative and rigorous work conducted by local organizations and leaders also has potential to inform other communities addressing disparities caused or exacerbated by COVID-19.
“The CDC Foundation in collaboration with organizations in the community and local leadership provided resources to meet a number of COVID-19 needs for the Latino community during the pandemic,” said Dr. Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “During this process we established several best practices that can be shared with other communities across the country. Every community is unique but developing innovative multi-sectoral partnerships and investing in local community leaders and experts are pillars that can be used in a variety of settings.”
Dr. Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Richmond and Henrico Health Districts affirms the support has benefited Latino communities, but cautions that COVID-19 remains an impending threat.
“The coordinated efforts have absolutely helped limit transmission of COVID-19 among undocumented communities,” explains Avula, “but COVID-19 is an ongoing threat, and we will need to continue to respond to both the acute medical and longstanding economic challenges Latinos face.”
Indeed, there is still a challenging road ahead in combating COVID-19 within Latino, Hispanic and undocumented communities, but continuing collaboration and utilizing a data-driven approach are some of the best tools at curbing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Deborah Ulmer, Immediate Past Chair, Richmond Memorial Health Foundation: “The work of our partners, including the Richmond City and Chesterfield Health Districts, community-based, grassroots organizations and health safety net organizations, and philanthropy and government, holds great promise to advance health equity and accelerate critical systems change work. We are grateful to all investors who have supported this work.”
Organizations or individuals interested in joining or supporting the efforts should email Courtney Worrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about funded partners, check out this information sheet:
On December 3, 2020, RMHF and the CDC Foundation co-hosted a national webinar entitled “The Richmond Region: One Community’s Collaborative Response to Addressing Needs during COVID-19.” Check out the recording, which includes English and Spanish subtitles: