Nonprofit works to bring health care to struggling neighborhoods hit harder by virus

Posted at 3:06 PM, Apr 22, 2020

The front line of the coronavirus epidemic is taking place on street corners and sidewalks across the country.

Patients stand in line with face masks on, diligently trying to keep their distance from one another. One by one, they make it to the front of the line and are greeted by a nurse covered from head to toe in protective gear.

At East Boston Neighborhood Health in Boston, the goal is to talk to patients before they enter the facility. Nurse and doctors want to know what kind of symptoms patients might be dealing with before they come inside.

This neighborhood, which struggled economically before the COVID-19 outbreak, is now facing a new social reckoning. Many residents who didn’t have access or couldn’t afford healthcare before the virus pandemic, have now become easy targets for transmission.

“If you didn’t have a healthcare home before, then you don’t feel comfortable walking in and getting the treatment you need,” said Manny Lopes, who serves as the CEO for East Boston Neighborhood Health.

For this non-profit situated in the heart of a blue collar, immigrant community, the challenge has been outreach. Many residents in the area fear their immigration status or job may be in jeopardy if they get tested for the virus, so officials worry many may choose to stay home, which prevents health care workers from getting a better grasp on handling the outbreak.

“We’ve known our communities suffer from higher rate of diabetes and asthma. When a virus attacks a community like this, we know that many of these individuals will end up hospitalized,” Lopes said.

A lack of affordable housing in major cities across the country is helping the virus spread faster.
When a family of six or 10 is crammed in a 600 sq. ft. apartment, there's no place for someone to self-quarantine when they get sick.

“The housing crisis has been brought to the surface because of this,” Lopes said.

But even with all the challenges the outbreak is presenting, people like Lopes see it as an opportunity to reach out to people in the community who may not have trusted the health care system before, in hopes of keeping them healthier in the future.