Community Conversations Organizations

Diego A.’s new role, care for immigrant and refugee community shifts with COVID crisis

Diego A.

Diego A. had been in his new professional role for only a few months when COVID-19 hit. He quickly found himself adjusting not only to being the President and CEO of Casa de Salud, but also to working from home with his wife and two young children.

Diego has worked with programs designed to assist immigrant and refugee communities for years; the transition to leading the premier healthcare resource for the foreign-born community in the St. Louis region was a natural step.

Language and Trust

Diego sees the pandemic as a series of opportunities for us to learn and improve, and to be better human beings. He moves the conversation to the unique needs and considerations during this time for the Latino, African, Bosnian, Vietnamese, and other communities in St. Louis where English is not the primary language.

To reach and understand the needs of local foreign-born communities, organizations providing services and resources should find someone who already has a trusting relationship with these communities, like a faith-based institution, and have a conversation. He maintains, “Until everyone gets on board, nobody makes progress.”

Consistency in information and messaging through language translations is important.  “Even though someone may prefer to read and speak in Spanish, they probably can read enough in English,” he says, “If they see information that differs, that could lead to distrust.”

Adapting to Provide Care

Diego said being the CEO of Casa in the early days of the pandemic was an exciting time. “We were incredibly flexible and pivoted to telehealth [by phone] in a period of two days,” he says. “By the end of March we were humming along in terms of being able to provide telehealth to primary health care patients and teletherapy to folks seeking mental health care.” Casa has seen a huge jump in demand for the latter due to the stress and anxiety surrounding COVID-19.

Diego says it seems like people are reaching out for support more, likely because their natural supports are less available due to social distancing. He says therapy over the phone has been as effective as speaking in-person.

However, he says, “primary health has been a bit of a catch-22. There’s a lot that we can do, but it’s so much less than we could do in-person.” Casa will soon be able to see patients via Zoom and has plans to open for limited in-person services at the primary health clinic for those who are not presenting with COVID-19 symptoms.

Diego believes the realm of possibility for telemedicine is surprisingly wide and plans to expand Casa’s footprint, at least digitally, by providing referrals to convenient services near the client’s location.

Latino Community

Diego thinks the pandemic is elevating the importance of the Latino community in the economic engine. Like other marginalized communities, many are essential workers who couldn’t work from home, take a leave of absence for health reasons, or qualify for employment insurance.  He says, “When faced with the probability of getting COVID and the certainty of not being able to put food on the table, it’s a pretty easy choice—if a choice at all.”

Diego points out frustrations with the federal stimulus package, which stipulated anyone in a mixed-status family could not receive funds. “Regardless of whether I was here in a documented fashion, and someone in my household was not,” he says, “I would not qualify because of the other person.” Safety net requirements that further force folks into the dark and the margins, he says, create a bigger problem, because those people aren’t seeking care and become a risk to the rest of us.

When it comes to a public health crisis like a pandemic, Diego says there needs to be an all-in response. “If we think about it divisively, we’re going to take two steps back for every step we take forward.”