IFR has often spoken on how Latinx health disparities are fueled by environmental and socioeconomic factors. Never has this been clearer than with COVID-19 where Latinxs have the highest infection rates in San Francisco. Not content to let this pandemic continue to adversely impact our community, the Latino COVID Collaborative, led by Omar Pimentel, intends to change this condition.
Collaborative partners, which include IFR, Centro Latino de San Francisco, Cultura y Arte de las Americas (CANA), La Raza Community Resource Center, and Mission Neighborhood Centers, first began working together on a joint leadership transition project. As COVID spread to San Francisco, the partners pivoted to address issues arising from the pandemic. At the time, Si a la Vida, IFR’s integrated HIV program, was well-positioned to incorporate contact tracing and health education to Latinos because of their historically effective community outreach strategies.
As the pandemic continued, the need for increased support for Latinx grew. San Francisco Dept. of Public Health tapped IFR to expand its work in this area. “We are known for providing culturally and linguistically appropriate responses,” offered Omar. “We have a trauma-informed, harm reduction approach, and can avoid the mistrust associated with larger institutions.”
This is one of the key issues – distrust of institutions – that makes the Latinx COVID Collaborative necessary. “We understand the context in which our community lives, and we’ve cultivated relationships with them for decades. When Latinxs hear the names of the organizations in our collaborative, they know who we are because we’ve established trust with them. We can leverage those relationships to help support their COVID-related health needs.”
Born to Mexican immigrants, Omar is clearly excited about the work the Collaborative is undertaking. The team has developed a collaborative service model that includes wrap-around services. As the team’s Program Director, Omar will oversee six Contact Tracers, a Case Investigator Coordinator, and a Care Manager. This group will work to help clients adopt risk reduction behaviors, improve sanitation practices, establish stable living conditions, and providing expanded contact tracing and investigation – all indicators that contribute to improving the COVID-19 infection rate among Latinxs.
Despite the incredible challenge this work requires, the Latinx COVID Collaborative is heading into this work with its collective impact eyes open. They know there are lots of questions regarding access, availability, and the trustworthiness of vaccines, not to mention rampant misinformation and differences of opinion. However, as Omar points out, “Using an equity lens isn’t just a buzzword here. This distrust comes out of a history of misusing black and brown bodies. People want to make informed decisions, and we always want to support that.”