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Neighborhood HELP: Caring for Vulnerable Communities During a Pandemic | FIU News




The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact not only on our health but also on our daily lives. And minority populations – such as those served by FIU’s Green Family Foundation F Neighborhood Health Education Learning Program (HELP Neighborhood) – are disproportionately affected.

A report just published in Journal of Health Care for the Poor and the Unmerited details the impact of the pandemic on more than 850 neighborhood households serving NDIHM in Miami-Dade County and how FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine intervened to mitigate the impact.

“The virus has been described as a excellent equalizer because it affects everyone without distinction, regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status “, said Dr. Nana Garba, lead author of the study. “However, minority communities have obviously felt this heavy.”

Garba, Assistant Professor in the Family and Community Medicine Division, oversees student family visits to the HELP Neighborhood.


Food deliveries helped nearly 300 families in the HELP neighborhood who experienced food insecurity during the pandemic.

Weekly phone calls
Recognizing the profound impact COVID-19 can cause in this vulnerable population, the NeighborhoodHELP team took action. On March 1, 2020, one month before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a 30-day home order, NeighborhoodHELP students, faculty, and field staff began weekly calls for families to assess their social and social needs. health care.

“Even when I was in the hospital [with COVID]”They called me on the phone to check on me,” said Marie Pericles, a HELP Neighborhood family member since 2013.

“We asked about everything, from their physical and mental status to whether they were able to afford face masks. And we used every opportunity to educate them on how to protect themselves from the virus, “said Virama Oller, director of the HELP Neighborhood Assistance Team.

“Prevention education is critical because minorities – blacks and Hispanics – and those with socio-economic disadvantages experience health inequalities and social conditions that put them at higher risk of being infected with the virus,” he said. David Brown, Chief of Family and Community Medicine.

NeighborhoodHELP is Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine’s signature program. It is a service learning program that immerses medical students in the community. In addition to nursing, social work, and medical assistant students, they learn closely about social determinants of health. Socio-economic factors such as poverty, education, employment and access to services can affect health and health outcomes. The program also provides health care services at home and in mobile health centers. But because of the pandemic, personal services were temporarily banned.

Addressing family needs during the pandemic
The HELP neighborhood responded to COVID-19 holistically. The team distributed thousands of masks, leaflets with prevention tips, distributed food to families with food insecurity, and helped members apply for financial assistance. Furthermore, medical students conducted teaching sessions for school-age children.

When the pandemic limited home visits (except for home-related patients with special medical needs), medical students and physicians began virtual telehealth visits to stay in touch with patients. In addition, patients with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory problems received medical equipment to measure their blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood oxygen levels at home.


NDIHM Assistants Cat Cat Cat Busatto (left) and Jessica Oliveira (right) donate PPE equipment for a home visit to a home-bound patient early in the pandemic.

As vaccines became available, the HELP neighborhood faced another challenge – combating vaccine capture. Students, faculty, and staff participated in community forums to answer questions, allay fears, and encourage vaccination. And in collaboration with the FIU Vaccination Site, they invited elderly HELP Neighborhood patients to be vaccinated.

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HWCOM Dr Anna Virani vaccinates Maria Romero while her daughter registers the procedure.

Maria Romero, 73, was one of the first to seize the opportunity. She had desperately wanted to be vaccinated.

“She was on several waiting lists. So when we got a call from the HELP Neighborhood, we were in ecstasy, ”said her daughter, Yamil.

Lessons learned
Racial and ethnic minorities have been more susceptible to the virus for many reasons. They often work in high-risk essential jobs, live in smaller families with less room to socially isolate themselves if a family member becomes infected, and have a higher rate of co-morbidities – high blood pressure. blood and diabetes. Approximately 56 percent of HELP Neighborhood members are Hispanic, 37 percent are non-Hispanic black, and 2 percent are non-Hispanic white. More than two-thirds of these households live below the poverty line with an annual income of $ 10,000 or less.

Her decade-long, trusting and intimate relationship with members of Miami-Dade County’s most vulnerable communities allowed the College of Medicine and NeighborhoodHELP to respond quickly to the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have been able to confirm that at least 73 of our approximately 2,000 HELP neighborhood members became infected with the virus. Sadly, one of them died,” said Dr. Robert Sackstein, dean of Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. that our interventions helped keep our members of the household healthy. “

Next steps
Since its inception more than 10 years ago, the HELP Neighborhood has operated on the premise that addressing social determinants within a family will improve the health of family members. The next steps involve comparing COVID-19-related outcomes between NeighborhoodHELP households and households in the same enrollment blocks that are not enrolled in the program. The comparison will help determine if a social navigation service program such as NeighborhoodHELP made a difference to the COVID-19 results. And it can help in future outbreaks.

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