TAKE 5 With: Rose Veniegas, Senior Health Program Officer

April 22, 2020

California Community Foundation (CCF) launched the COVID-19 LA County Response Fund to address the immediate and emerging needs of our region’s most vulnerable residents—from mitigation to eventual recovery. This fund will support community needs identified by our partners in health, housing, education and immigration.

Our staff is partnering with community leaders to make grants and provide supports based on what they are learning from the field. In this series we will ask five questions of our programs officers to better understand the impact of our work and the ongoing needs of community members.

  1. Please explain the role of community clinics in our healthcare system–especially for undocumented workers and low wage workers.

Community clinics are trusted providers of care among our immigrant communities. While the Affordable Care Act increased the number of people who could get health insurance, many immigrants remain excluded from the health insurance exchanges and even Medi-Cal. Going into the COVID crisis there were over 750,000 people in LA County who had no way of getting insurance/health coverage. This number is likely to increase because of the waves of job losses across the nation. Many immigrants work in low-wage jobs without employee health benefits.

  1. What unique role has CCF played in responding to the healthcare needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?

The outbreak has disproportionately harmed people in our communities who were already lacking health coverage, housing, job security or food.

  • Almost 1 million people who were uninsured before March.
  • Black people were four times more likely to be homeless than other ethnic groups.
  • Over 900,000 undocumented Angelenos, who are the bedrock of our economy, have been excluded from federal aid and other safety net programs.
  • Food deserts existed in resource starved communities.
  • And these same neighborhoods have long been defined by racial injustice and economic disenfranchisement.

Knowing these things, the health grants focused on people who are experiencing homelessness and are being served by our nonprofit community clinics and hospitals. This emergency phase of funding is helping hospitals and community clinics respond to increased numbers of potentially exposed and sick patients seeking care, food, temporary quarantine or shelter. In addition to other personal supportive services they made need. 

In addition to making grants, we are making connections within a disjointed healthcare system.  CCF, as a community foundation, sits at the nexus point between a variety of community stakeholders. We knew where and who in our community were most vulnerable before COVID, we know the nonprofits whose mission focuses on these community members, and we have the generous partners who allow us to help bring the communities’ assets together. That’s the added value of a community foundation. We know our neighbors even in a vast county like this one.

Our public health partners are helping to identify people who are sick, prevent us from spreading the virus, and open places for people to shelter, but they are not responsible for health care services. Our health department helps track symptoms as they worsen and need hospital care, but they may not be able to link someone to food or housing services. CCF works with these partners and helps connect the dots among our community assets whether they are hospitals, clinics, or government-led health departments.

  1. Can you describe the dots you are connecting with a specific example?

When we learned that public health had set up multiple COVID19 quarantine shelters to care for people experiencing homelessness we reached out to the clinics we knew that specialize in care for this community. We linked our health department partners with clinics working nearby or that had the capacity to provide needed services including testing. Caring for people who struggle with homelessness, are disoriented because of mental illness, or who are dealing with substance abuse takes a special set of skills. Grants to LA Christian and JWCH health clinics allowed them to cover a portion of relocated staff to provide care at locations on the Westside and now in Southeast LA. Having your health care provider stay with you is something that is especially important for people with so many acute health needs.

  1. It is CCF’s mission to bring about long lasting positive change for LA County’s most vulnerable. How COVID-19 impacted the health of our region’s most vulnerable?

The outbreak has disproportionately impacted and devastated communities that are already grappling with long-standing legacies of racial injustice and economic disenfranchisement.  For example, we are hearing in the news about the high mortality rate for African Americans infected with COVID-19. The neighborhoods in LA that were negatively rated by banks and lenders for investments as part of a system of redlining communities with high proportions of ethnic minorities are the same neighborhoods today that lack fresh grocery outlets, job opportunities, and have many health conditions including diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. These are the same health conditions that put people at greatest risk for COVID mortality. Racism and discrimination before the current crisis began are the root causes of the disproportionate impact of COVID in LA County. We must explicitly acknowledge how this public health crisis is playing out and why certain populations are hurt more than others by this virus. As a community foundation our first job is to improve the conditions for the most vulnerable.

  1. What happens after the emergency grants?

As a result of the loss of employer-covered insurance many more Californians will need to access health services through a community clinic. Between 1-3 million Californians are expected to enroll in Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid) in the next year.

Federal support for community clinics in addition to the immediate relief packages that have been advanced will be critical in the coming months and into the next few years. Hospitals received a significant relief package and clinics also need waves of relief as they are likely to be the sites where people will get follow up care after hospital discharge, vaccines when they are available or as they are needed, and ongoing care for the health conditions that make them most vulnerable to COVID –diabetes, heart disease, respiratory conditions.

Many of the clinics and hospitals are stretching beyond their financial capacity to pay for massive quantities of equipment at inflated prices, to increase staffing for the potential surge in the emergency department and ICU, and to defer providing services and surgeries that would otherwise help them meet their financial needs. We have a responsibility to plan with and help our health care first responders bounce back from the emergency and return to good financial health. We are working on that too. Stay tuned…

 

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