When the world feels like a different place, and there are scary headlines in the news, Mister Rogers urged us to “look for the helpers.” You don’t need to search very hard to find them at Community Health Centers. They are the providers at the drive-thru testing sites in parking lots; the Community Health Workers who make sure patients have a safe place to sleep or food in the pantry if times are rough. They are courageous, generous, and many are unsung — but we see them and acknowledge these health center heroes today on the frontlines of COVID-19.
They include providers like James Hotz, MD, who founded the Albany Area Primary Health Care Community Health Center in rural southwest Georgia, now in the stranglehold of COVID-19. With so many in the area testing positive for the disease, Hotz reached out through the telephone and conducted 120 virtual visits with his patients, many of whom are elderly and don’t have access to broadband internet or a smartphone for telehealth. “In a matter of weeks we completely changed how we interface with our patients,” said Hotz. “But I didn’t want them exposed.” Hotz described the experience in a podcast for the National Conference of State Legislatures. He also noted that he has four children who are themselves physicians and one of them has tested positive for COVID-19.
They are also the brave health care team of the Charlotte Community Health Clinic in North Carolina, where patients can get their blood pressure checked and receive diabetic supplies. And the grassroots network of friends, family, and staff at Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic in Oregon, who have sewn over 1,000 masks to bolster dwindling supplies.
Further north in Brockton, Massachusetts, at the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, you will often find staffer Sam Halloran and her husband Steve (his nickname is The Professor) unpacking a carload of protective gear they tracked down from a donor.
The staff at Community Health Centers of Burlington (CHCB) in Vermont travel in a borrowed van to reach out and test people who are homeless or living in hotels.
We know their hours are long and the demands of the job are overwhelming. “Since the pandemic begin, I would say my average workday ends between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. every morning,” writes Stephanie Campbell, Director of Nursing at STRIDE Community Health Center in Colorado in a recent blog post. Often, I go to sleep worrying about our patients and staff. But when my alarm goes off a few hours later, I wake up again ready to repeat the day. I wouldn’t change any of it. I am so proud to work for an organization that cares so much for the community, its patients and its staff. As a nurse, this is my calling. Maybe not the lack of sleep, but to care for people and to care for our community. ”
We know they are tired, and as afraid as we are, but they soldier on because mission matters. Today we thank the helpers.
Do you have community members, volunteers, or local organizations helping during this really challenging time with donations, time, or in some other unique way? We’d love to highlight helper stories & say thank you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.