An up-close conversation with the Director of Nursing and Care Management at La Clinica del Pueblo about the COVID-19 vaccines.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Even during her time off, Luizilda was still working. She waited for all this time to be able to help her patients. “I called her on a Sunday just to see how she was doing. She said, ‘Why are you calling me on a Sunday’ I said because I want to know how you are doing.” Just a day before, one of her patients was given the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, after rescheduling 3 times and feeling afraid of getting vaccinated, her patient finally showed up “It took one of our nurses who's going to medical school a whole hour to take her from education to the vaccine room and to be with her during the waiting time” Luizilda recalls.
For Luizilda de Oliveria, Director of Nursing and Care Management at La Clinica del Pueblo, being able to tell her patients that they could have the possibility to get vaccinated was joyful because the months before were difficult for many. The confinement and uncertainty, in addition to the fact of not being able to see our loved ones, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, left many families in despair. “Last summer was really difficult because usually, we are used to being active, doing more, but then we couldn't do that. And then Christmas came, most of us could not really be with our families either and traveling was scary.” Luizilda had to make sure to take all the precautions not to contract the virus. “I wanted to make sure that I was here for my team and for the patients.”
Latinos were three times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared to non-Latino whites, and they were twice as likely to die from the disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Latinx community has the highest rates of uninsured of any racial or ethnic group in the nation. Last year the pandemic brought to light these inequities since the community made up about a third of the Covid-19 cases in the DMV area.
“When the vaccine arrived at La Clinica, and to the entire world, it gave us a sense of hope, it was like we were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Luizilda added.
La Clinica has the organizational capacity and experience to implement robust vaccination programs. Since December 2020 La Clinica started planning strategies to educate and engage the Latinx community to access the COVID-19 vaccines. The goal was to increase the number of community members who are vaccinated, specifically targeting La Clinica's medical patients, behavioral health clients, clients of our community health programming, as well as the general Latinx community. “Being able to vaccinate patients was a big deal because we had to set up a whole new infrastructure to provide that service and we did that,” said nurse Oliveira.
The initial focus was vaccinating the most vulnerable patients, 65 and older, later La Clinica ramped up for the rest of the patient population. Vaccination events during the weekend were organized to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake. At the present time, because of the comprehensive approach to healthcare, when patients have a medical appointment for another reason, they are also asked if they are interested in receiving a vaccine. “A lot of patients would ask me if I was vaccinated and which vaccine, I’ve got,” stated Luizilda.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, La Clinica has played a significant role as a trusted health center to share reliable, culturally, and linguistically appropriate information on COVID-19, and the vaccination phase. The Health Communication team developed a series of bilingual materials on the COVID-19 vaccine safety, its effectiveness as well as information on how to schedule an appointment. The materials were distributed both in person, at the sites, and virtually through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Another important part was to promote vaccine efficacy through weekly interactive, virtual sessions on Facebook Live and Zoom, in which community health educators and experts share valuable information on the vaccine and address frequent questions, promoting trust. Moreover, La Clinica spokespersons also participated in several media appearances, and have been recently featured in Telemundo and Univision the largest Latino TV networks, where they highlighted the vaccination’s efforts for the Latinx community in the area.
For Luizilda, teamwork played a vital role, and everyone was involved, “the positive side was to see that our team; like the receptionist, the nurses and medical assistants coming on Saturdays to vaccinate patients going out like in the streets finding people to get vaccines so we wouldn't waste any. All of those things were really beautiful things to see.”
One of the challenges to promote COVID-19 vaccination was hesitancy within the Latinx community. Miss Oliveira remembered how hard it was for her to convince her patients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “The most impactful story that I had was one of our patients who happens to be homeless. I wanted to convince him to get his vaccine and he told me that he did not want his vaccine. One day while I was at a meeting, he came to La Clinica again and I stopped doing everything to talk to him. I explained why he needed to get this vaccine and finally, he said okay, stop annoying me.” Persistence pays, as nurse Oliveira recalls she was happy and worried at the same time because she was not sure if he was going to come back for his second dose, but he did and was fully vaccinated.
Another challenge was access to technology and language barriers. To approach these issues La Clinica trained health educators, medical receptionists, care coordinators, and other staff to support vaccination appointments, navigating vaccine sites, and answering any questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.
La Clinica has partnered with federal, local, and state governments to facilitate the administration of COVID-19 vaccines, partnering with the DC Department of Health to vaccinate eligible DC residents. As a federally qualified health center, La Clinica is working closely with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to ensure an equitable distribution of the vaccine among low-income Latinx community members. When it comes to Prince George’s County, La Clinica worked with local hospitals and health systems to coordinate vaccination efforts.
La Clinica del Pueblo has provided more than 1,000 vaccines at both DC and Hyattsville clinics and the number grows every day, “I think the vaccine brought a lot of hope, and it allowed us to do some things that we couldn't do before.”