The New Jersey Department of Health has enlisted Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton to help provide critically needed COVID-19 health education, testing, contact tracing, and vaccine support to underserved groups in Central Jersey, including Latino and Black communities and documented and undocumented immigrants.
Catholic Charities was awarded funding, through the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium, to:
* Help build a statewide, bilingual, multicultural “COVID Community Corps” health worker workforce trained through the New Jersey Department of Health Colette Lamothe-Galette Community Health Worker Institute – and then put those certified community health workers to work.
* Educate the community by creating wellness groups, working directly with vulnerable and hard-to-reach individuals through in-home engagement and multiple languages, and providing safe spaces for immigrants to ask questions and receive information.
* Remove barriers and increase access for marginalized groups. This includes assistance in vaccine pre-registration, appointment scheduling, technology assistance, and resource referrals for those who need transportation or childcare vouchers.
* Serve as a COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing site.
Trenton a focus
In Trenton, Catholic Charities is partnering with the Trenton Health Team and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund to do this work. At Catholic Charities, staff at El Centro de Recursos para Familias, which serves Greater Trenton’s Latino community at 327 S. Broad St., have set up a virtual exam room. Certified medical technicians, licensed practical nurses, community health workers and specialized mental health crisis staff will be on hand. The professionals are trained in the use of smart technology diagnostic tools to support a prescriber who is virtual.
Outside of Trenton, Catholic Charities will lead this work throughout Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
“We know education is a key intervention in promoting good health and well-being,” said Catholic Charities’ Nurse Executive/Director of Nursing Lisa Merritt (pictured, right). “We are excited to be at the forefront of this initiative and look forward to making a positive impact on the communities we serve.”
Eliminating inequity the goal
Healthcare leaders and others have voiced growing concerns about inequities in vaccine access, with immigrants and communities of color especially impacted – even as those demographic groups have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The state’s vaccination data, as of March 8, shows that white residents have received 59% of the doses administered; Latino residents, 6%; Black residents, 4%; and Asian residents, 6%. The racial/ethnic background of 25% was other/unknown. At the same time, Latino and Black residents represent 37% of the state’s COVID-19 cases – and 45% of hospitalizations, state data shows.
“The point of this program is to target an underserved, marginalized population,” said Susan Loughery, associate executive director of Catholic Charities (pictured, left). “Equity for COVID vaccine access and testing is critical in order to achieve public health objectives.”
Immigration restrictions in recent years have presented a unique barrier to vaccine access for the Latino community, many of whom consequently regard government initiatives with suspicion and fear.
“There’s a lot of mistrust in the Latino community about whether or not any of the information they put into the vaccine pre-registration site would be distributed to other government entities,” said Roberto Hernandez, El Centro’s director (pictured, right). “That’s why having it here at El Centro is so important, because the community trusts us. They trust El Centro and Catholic Charities. We have been in the community for many years, providing all sorts of services.”
Since its 1999 founding, El Centro has provided food, clothing, Department of Justice-accredited immigration assistance, language classes, family counseling, primary care (provided in a mobile health unit under a partnership with the Henry J. Austin Health Center), job training, summer camps, and much more to Greater Trenton’s Latino residents.
Parish outreach under way
Catholic Charities also is working through the Diocese of Trenton‘s 99 parishes to educate the public and improve access to vaccines, focusing especially on those with large Latino or multicultural congregations.
This COVID-19 outreach is part of the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases (ELC) project, a statewide initiative providing resources to enhance detection, response, contact tracing and prevention efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. The project is administered by the New Jersey Department of Health Division of Family Health Services and the Maternal Child Health Consortia, through a partnership with the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium as a regional grantee. CJFHC grants support community-based organizations serving vulnerable populations. ELC supports expanded access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, and training for community health workers to connect at-risk persons with needed services and reliable COVID-19 information.
Check out our landing page here to learn more about this initiative.
To listen to an online discussion in Spanish about inequities in the Latino community, click here.
See a FAQ on COVID-19 vaccines from the New Jersey Department of Health here.
Myths and misinformation about vaccines persist. The CDC dissects the facts and myths here.
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FOR INFORMATION on this initiative, contact Roberto Hernandez of El Centro, 327 S. Broad St., Trenton, at [email protected] or (609) 394-2056; or Lisha Loo-Morgan of Parish Services at [email protected]. For information about Catholic Charities, contact Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, at [email protected] or (215) 756-6277 (cell).
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