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As Latino COVID-19 cases soar, the uninsured seek services from clinics

As Latino COIVD-19 cases soar, the uninsured seek services from clinics. (WJAR)
As Latino COIVD-19 cases soar, the uninsured seek services from clinics. (WJAR)
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Testing for the coronavirus in Rhode Island increases almost daily across the state, including in the Latino community where leaders credit clinics for helping mitigate spread.

Most mornings, Dr. Beata Nelkin has a line of people waiting outside Jenks Pediatrics to get tested for the coronavirus.

“We were up to about 50 to 75 tests per day, with pediatrics also going on in the back, in between,” said Nelkin.

Nelkin converted her handicap elevator into a testing space.

“I used it twice for handicap access, and since then, it has been my Covid cage,” smiled Nelkin.

Its location on Broad street makes it easy for people to walk to get a test. Nelkin welcomes all ages.

“No insurance, everything is free for the uninsured and if you have insurance, we will use it, but I don’t ask questions,” explained Nelkin.

When a young woman with two small boys came, they wrote down their phone number and Nelkin got to work right away.

Though her accent might not match theirs, Nelkin calmed down the boys, speaking in Spanish to them as she stuck the swab up their nose.

They were pleased when she rewarded them with stickers.

Community leaders in Central Falls, including the Chief Health Strategist, told NBC 10 News Nelkin’s practice has made a difference in the community.

Nelkin said she tries to give people information, along with their test.

“Hopefully by the time people leave here, they have a good idea of what some of the resources are and how to quarantine and how to isolate and who to call for contact tracing and where to go,” said Nelkin. “We try to help them.”

And she’s not the only one.

Located in the Olneyville neighborhood in Providence, Clinica Esperanza Hope Clinic is also performing dozens of tests daily, while also providing medical care.

“As soon as we had the first case in Rhode Island, we basically locked the door so you could not come into the clinic until they screened you for COVID,” said Volunteer Medical Director, Dr. Annie De Groot.

She helped start the clinic 10 years ago.

With a background in infectious disease, she had her eye on the virus from its infancy in China.

“I said if it is anywhere in the East Coast, then it is in the community because we are not testing,” said De Groot.

The clinic serves roughly 3,000 patients a year, all who are uninsured. Amid the pandemic, their count is growing.

“We have tested nearly 2,000 people,” explained Clinica Esperanza Director of Clinic Operations, Morgan Leonard. “60 percent of those are potentially new patients, meaning they have lost their health insurance due to COVID.”

Of their patients, 80 percent speak Spanish.

Leonard says nearly all patients report earning less than $20,000 a year.

De Groot said she knew when COVID hit, they were going to have to act fast.

“People are extremely poor. They primarily speak Spanish, not English, so they are doing all of the service jobs in the back of the restaurants, doing the dishwashing, prepping the food, cooking the food,” explained De Groot. “There is no way they really have the savings to stop working so they are at super high risk.”

De Groot said she is grateful the clinic got help from the city quickly.

“When numbers started coming out, the city actually contacted us right away because they realized the population with the highest COVID infection rate was actually here in Olneyville,” said De Groot.

In the first month, the clinic’s positive test rate was 50 percent.

“That was pretty shocking,” admitted De Groot.

While numbers fell to 14 percent positive in July and then eight percent positive in August, numbers have been climbing again since September.

For the month of November, 36 percent of tests have been positive, a percentage higher than it was in May.

Since October, the clinic has locked the doors again so people have to be screened before they can go in.

Like Jenks Pediatrics, Clinica Esperanza Hope Clinic is also educating patients and helping them with basic needs.

“When we spoke to a patient, even if it was negative, we let them know that they need to keep on washing their hands, as much as they can, do hand sanitizer, wear their mask everywhere they go and try not to be around so many people so that they can protect themselves,” explained Brenda Veliz, a community health worker, also known as a ‘navigante’ within the clinic.

Dr. Nelkin said she too is worried about the surge in cases and hopes they can keep up.

“It is compounding by the day and it is going to be exponential cases in a minute,” said Nelkin.

Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, Care New England’s Community Relations Health Director, said the two clinics are so successful in their efforts because there is trust between the volunteers and members of the community.

“This is where trust becomes the most essential currency in public health,” said Rodriguez. “ When you have trusted voices, when you have places that already have demonstrated that they have your best interest at heart, they are culturally, linguistically appropriate, then those are the places where you have to put the greatest support and effort because that is where you are going to get the best bang for your buck.”

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