Helping keep aging Hispanic communities safe during COVID-19

This blog is written by Dr. Yanira Cruz, who is a non-employee guest blogger, sharing perspectives on the Hispanic population’s needs and concerns during COVID-19. Dr. Cruz’s authored content outside of this blog may not be representative of UnitedHealthcare Community & State’s perspectives or business approach and should not be considered endorsed by UnitedHealthcare.

For many of us, getting information about COVID-19 and the vaccine requires a simple search on the internet. But for our aging Hispanic populations, language barriers and limited experience with technology has made accurate, timely information difficult to access.

Since the pandemic began, our team at the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) has tirelessly worked to get educational materials out in English, Spanish and Portuguese to help raise awareness about the virus in Hispanic communities. This has been especially critical because many individuals within this population are considered essential workers. And without access to COVID-19 information in a language that is easy to understand, it is difficult for these individuals to protect both themselves and their families.

Considering the unique needs of Hispanic communities

Every community has different needs. To better address unique concerns during COVID-19, NHCOA hosts virtual town halls across the nation, giving us the ability to take the pulse of local communities and understand the issues that are important to them. The council is also hosting online events at least two times per month, both in English and in Spanish, to talk through concerns and raise awareness around new resources and fact-based, timely information about the virus. Through co-branded communications with UnitedHealthcare Community & State, we have been able to deliver factual COVID-19 information with the help and support of stakeholders well-versed on this important topic.

Because Facebook is popular within Hispanic communities, we use the platform to host UnitedHealthcare Community & State providers who can answer questions about the vaccine, debunk inaccurate information and help address hesitancies. Through this outreach, combined with targeted communications promoted on social media, radio, television and through grassroot leaders in communities, the council has been able to keep members of the Hispanic community up to date as more information about the virus becomes available.

Digital experiences create barriers for aging Hispanic populations

Many of the aging Hispanic adults we work with are not familiar with online platforms and capabilities, like creating and using an email account. And many within this population do not have computers or smartphones in their homes, making it difficult for them to access the internet and schedule a vaccination appointment. Not only does this digital divide disproportionally impact older individuals who need the vaccine the most, but state vaccine registration sites are not always intuitive for individuals who do not speak English as their first language.

Not only does this digital divide disproportionally impact older individuals who need the vaccine the most, but state vaccine registration sites are not always intuitive for individuals who do not speak English as their first language.

To fill this access gap, NHCOA has been working to help aging Hispanic individuals register for vaccinations. Since the vaccine became available, we have managed to register a handful of individuals every day to receive their first dose. But our impact still remains relatively small due to logistical barriers, such as complicated vaccine registration forms and limited appointment slots.

Extending reach to Hispanic families and caregivers

NHCOA owns housing facilities for aging Hispanic adults who live independently in Kansas and in the Washington, DC area, making it is easy for us to deliver communications in familiar ways (e.g., letters and flyers). These communications include safety precautions, as well as information about resources such as food delivery and transportation to doctor appointments — both of which are always needed, but have been even more necessary since the pandemic.

The council has also offered housing stipends to individuals who were heavily impacted by COVID-19 due to job loss. Through the program, Hispanic families whose financial status changed as a result of the pandemic could apply, with recipients selected by the council.

Inclusivity for vaccine messaging and distribution

Governing bodies are in charge of determining vaccine distribution and allocations — but today’s models are not working for the communities that need them most. And if those of us at NHCOA are only able to sign up a handful of individuals for the vaccine each day, who will help the rest of the aging Hispanic population?

Because vaccine supplies will continue to be limited, NHCOA is encouraging state and federal governments to work with community-based organizations to make sure that vaccines are prioritized for populations who need it most. Many times, these individuals are also the ones who face barriers accessing care, meaning that distribution will need to focus not only on getting vaccines to the right communities, but also ensuring vaccination sites are accessible and that all members of the population are considered. By working with organizations that directly interact with these populations, we can help improve vaccination rates and get vaccines to the people who are living with the most risk.

Dr. Yanira Cruz is the president and chief executive officer of the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA). She is also a Board member of the American Society on Aging and Justice in Aging. Her primary focus is providing a Hispanic perspective on public health and older adult issues to increase understanding of the needs impacting Hispanics across the nation.



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