The Coronavirus has killed more than 24,000 people in Los Angeles County alone since the pandemic started. There have been over 1.2 million infections, and more than 124,000 hospitalizations, according to the County of Los Angeles Public Health.
As a result of the high number of cases, the Community Health Worker Outreach Initiative (CHWOI) began in October 2020 to conduct countywide community outreach to those most impacted by COVID-19. As of July 11, 2022, 67% of Latinos have been vaccinated in all 36 states based on race and ethnic breakdown vaccination rates, according to Kaiser Family Foundation reports.
At the height of this project, CHWOI had 17 subcontracted agencies with over 900 community health workers working in communities most heavily impacted by the virus. CHW also provided vaccination and COVID-19 testing for approximately 5.9 million people since October 2020.
Through peer-to-peer partnerships, the initiative enhances a community-based system of response to amplify accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 and ensure equal access to vaccinations and resources.
At the height of the pandemic, there were nearly 900 workers across LA County; the number now is around 400, said Tiffany Romo, health program manager at the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
Romo manages projects and implements community outreach planning as well as writing grants. After completing her undergraduate studies and working for community-based organizations for several years, she pursued and received a master’s degree in Public Health at San Diego State University. Romo has worked as a public health professional-health worker for over 15 years.
“I love my job because I get to serve my community and help people improve their health and well-being,” Romo said.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
TIFFANY ROMO, 41, LOS ANGELES, HEALTH PROGRAM MANAGER AT LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH, SHE/HER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN & WHITE
AS A HEALTH PROGRAM MANAGER WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED IN GETTING THE LATINO COMMUNITY VACCINATED?
Our focus for all of our communities, including the Latino community, has been to ensure that people have the information and resources they need to make the best decisions for their health and to access the vaccines. We found there was misinformation and mistrust in different communities across the county. We found folks that couldn’t access mainstream media and didn’t have the information they needed. For these reasons and many more, the Community Health Worker Outreach Initiative has been vital to ensuring access to the free and public resources that are available to everyone. The Department of Public Health focuses on building relationships and trust with community members alongside community health workers and community-based organizations who are part of the community. Additionally, it is vital we provide culturally competent services and continue to make the vaccination process as accessible as possible.
HOW ARE COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKERS CONNECTING WITH THE LATINO COMMUNITY?
Community health workers (CHW) serve as that trust and community voice. A lot of these CHWs are from the communities where they are working in, they are fixtures in our community. People see them regularly in the community, people come to them. I hear a lot of the time from CHWs that people need access to food resources or they need help getting enrolled in a program, or that they need help creating an appointment. Again, community health workers are really the connector and information hub for that community. They really help to navigate our residents through whatever needs arise or resources they need to get connected to.
WHY ARE COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKERS A VITAL LINK TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO MAINSTREAM MEDIA?
There is so much misinformation out there and I think that’s why it’s really important to have our community health workers. That are CHWs serve as that vital link to make sure that our residents have access to accurate and up-to-date information about covid. Also, they can access vaccinations and all of the resources so that they can make really informed decisions about their health and the health of their families. CHWs are so connected to their communities and they are out there every day talking to residents. That information they get from residents they share with us, with our Department of Public Health. So, they really serve us to inform better our programs and messaging and check in with what is working. CHWs really level our planning as a department and they are just such a valuable resource to not just the community but to us the department as a whole.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MISSION FOR YOU AS THE HEALTH PROGRAM MANAGER?
For me personally, and with this program, is to really serve our most vulnerable and underserved residents. We don’t want to leave anybody behind; we want to make sure that everyone has access to the information, services and resources that they need to support their overall health and well-being, and that is the critical and central mission of the CHW outreach initiative. It’s making sure that everybody regardless of age, gender, race, or ethnicity, that they have access to all this critical information. So, it’s really around education and empowering residents. We provide them with the information and resources and it’s up to the residents to decide what they want to do with the information for themselves and their families.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO INTEGRATE AND ENGAGE THE LATINO COMMUNITY TO CARE ABOUT THEIR HEALTH?
I think what we hear from our communities is that it’s important that we help mitigate and eliminate barriers to accessing information and resources. So, I think that’s what it’s really about. Meeting the community where they are, and helping them access all of the things that can help support their overall health, especially related to COVID-19. Sometimes helping them is literally helping them fill out paperwork or appointments. Maybe they don’t have access to the internet and some people don’t even know how to navigate a computer because they are not tech-savvy. I think everyone as a community as a whole really cares about their health and our community in general wants to be healthy and you can see that with our CHWs. Our CHWs are very passionate about their communities and what they do.
FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE TO LATINOS TODAY REGARDING THEIR HEALTH?
Our focus with our CHW outreach initiative is really on inequitable access to information and resources. We really want to make sure that all our communities, including the Latino community, have access to that information and resources. We want to create the idea of empowering consumers so that they know how to use and utilize this information and act on that information.
Also related to COVID-19, we want to make sure people stay healthy and that they understand the tools that they have in their toolbox to prevent and mitigate the spread and protect the health of themselves and their families. They need to make sure to do tests when they know they are going to be in large crowds or get-togethers since the holidays are coming up. They also need to be really cautious and wear a mask in certain situations and make sure they are vaccinated and up to date with all their vaccinations, not just with COVID-19 vaccines. So, we really just need to do basic hygiene and get good sleep and eat well, which all contribute to our health.