by Gabrielle O’Boyle, Marketing Director, Healthcare Network
Throughout the early months of the pandemic, Healthcare Network recognized the need to enhance resources for the community we have served since 1977.
During the summer, we hired Julie Pedretti to serve as the COVID-19 community relations director through a grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) to support increased COVID-19 testing and education.
Pedretti organized our COVID-19 Response Team to expand existing programs, including testing, education and community outreach. This critical response team was also made possible through a federal grant awarded from HRSA.
“While the news is filled with information about COVID, some people have economic, language, cultural and other barriers to understanding the highly infectious nature of coronavirus or have received false or misleading information about it,” Pedretti said.
Focusing on underserved populations throughout Collier County, the team is strategically and collaboratively working with several local organizations including the Department of Health, Coalition of Immokalee Workers and FSU College of Medicine to slow the spread of the virus and educate at-risk residents on health and safety precautions.
“Health disparities exist during normal times, and with the pandemic, these inequities have only compounded, placing many of our neighbors at increased risk for COVID-19,” Pedretti said.
“Community outreach to dispel myths and address economic, language, cultural and literacy barriers that prevent people from understanding the highly infectious nature of the virus is critical to keeping everyone in our community healthy.”
To overcome these barriers, Healthcare Network’s response team employs several tactics, including door-to dooroutreach where they provide culturally appropriate educational materials and messaging to encourage mask wearing, proper hand hygiene, physical distancing and staying home when sick.
When identified, the group is also able to help families connect with local resources for physical and mental health, food and housing assistance. Because the risk from the virus remains serious and testing is critical to reducing the spread, the COVID-19 team is continuing to organize community drive-thru testing events as well as schedule pop-up testing, where needed.
To address the unique needs of returning migrant workers, the team worked in Immokalee, going door-to-door, to provide educational resources and distribute face masks. Additionally, the multilingual team consisting of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and individuals with experience in public health and health education manages Healthcare Network’s new COVID-19 Resource Line.
Through the resource line, team members answer questions from community members concerning the virus and provide callers with further information on local resources and testing locations. The COVID-19 Resource Line is available by phone at 239.675.7080 or by email at HCNCOVID@HealthcareSWFL.org.
Healthcare Network has also made free mental health support available for area essential frontline workers through a grant from Direct Relief. Essential workers including but not limited to healthcare workers, protective service and first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, agricultural workers, janitors and maintenance workers, and truck drivers can receive up to three free visits with mental health providers via telehealth or in person. The grant supports up to a total of 500 visits through March 2021. Learn more at HealthcareSWFL.org/Direct-Relief, or call 239.658.3000