#COVID19CHC: Community Health Centers Connecting with Patients during COVID-19
By Kristine Cecile Alarcon, MPH
Community health centers (CHCs) provide care to over 29 million people in the United States including over 1.2 million Asian Americans (AAs), Native Hawaiians (NHs), and Pacific Islanders (PIs). AAPCHO member health centers and other CHCs across the country provide care to the most vulnerable in our communities, serving primarily low-income and uninsured patients who would otherwise not get the care that they need. CHCs play a critical role and are at the frontlines of responding to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic — yet do not have the same access to medical supplies and other much-needed resources as large hospitals or other medical providers.
AAPCHO’s #COVID19CHC Stories series aims to shed a light on the critical role of CHCs, and why we need to ensure clinics have the resources and support they need to provide care for the most vulnerable in our communities when they need it most.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many face unexpected changes in their housing status and food security. In this episode, Sheryl Yoshimura, RD of Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services (KKV) in Honolulu shares how she and her team provide personable care while addressing food and housing insecurity during this unprecedented time.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheryl and her team, consisting of community health workers (CHWs) and care coordinators, worked closely with the community to address food insecurity and housing with cultural and linguistic competency in mind. They partnered with local food pantries and food distribution sites to provide nutritional options to their patients. CHWs also supported patients with their public housing applications.
When COVID-19 hit, KKV staff acted quickly to ensure these services were still provided.
“Our community health workers became drivers, so they would pick up the food and deliver them to patient homes. We were picking up medications for them. Most of our patients rely on the bus and we didn’t want them to [have to] go on the bus,” Sheryl mentioned as she recalled the changes in their delivery of care.
KKV’s COVID-19 response team adapted educational materials in-house and worked with staff, who collectively speak over 25 languages including Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander languages, to educate their patients. These handouts were also included with the patients’ food and medication deliveries as well.
COVID-19 navigators worked with patients who lost their jobs or had decreased hours when the CARES Act passed. They educated patients about their eligibility and assisted in their applications for rental assistance.
To ensure social distancing, KKV also provided phones to patients who didn’t have access to telehealth technology for routine chronic care management. Reaching patients through telehealth has been helpful as no show rates have improved. Despite some issues with connectivity, Sheryl and her staff continue to innovatively connect with patients through telehealth.
“We do cooking sessions with families via Zoom. I’m cooking with [them on] my phone and they’re also watching, so we’re cooking at the same time. When we’re done cooking, we eat together. The kids get very excited and say, ‘Oh this vegetable tastes really good,’” Sheryl shared how she still intimately connects with patients.
As Sheryl continues to work with patients, she hopes they’ll carry on these skills and knowledge beyond the pandemic. However, policy change to increase access to healthy food, affordable housing and reliable internet connectivity is needed for low-income families as COVID-19 continues to impact communities. In the long term, improved urban planning and development is needed so that community members can exercise self-efficacy and feel empowered to eat and live healthy.