Cempa Community Care has been fighting infectious diseases since the organization’s inception 34 years ago. When COVID-19 started to affect people in Chattanooga, Hamilton County, and the surrounding region, Cempa’s leadership team jumped into action.
People impacted by COVID-19 in the Chattanooga region have made headlines, from the most affected zip codes to individuals who lacked access to care. According to data from The New York Times and the CDC, Black and Hispanic people in the United States are three times more likely to be infected and two times more likely to die from the virus than white people. Bringing care to marginalized communities has been at the core of Cempa’s mission since the outset, and the organization’s leadership team did not hesitate to act as COVID-19 began spreading across the region.
Loni Howard, Mobile Clinic Coordinator at Cempa, worked with Cempa CEO Shannon Stephenson and other members of the Cempa team to initiate mobile testing in communities that were disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus. Cempa’s mobile clinic was initially introduced with the intention of reaching vulnerable communities, and this health crisis was no exception.
“We immediately noticed that minority communities weren’t getting the tests they needed,” Howard says. “They were the biggest groups lacking access to knowing their status. We partnered with neighborhood churches and our community partners to bring testing to these areas. Once we saturated these neighborhoods, we moved to rural communities to provide free, accessible testing.”
Since Cempa’s mobile COVID-19 testing started in early May, the mobile clinic team has offered one to two testing days per week, with approximately 300 to 500 people showing up for testing each day, rain or shine.
“We’re community-driven at Cempa, and we want to make an impact by enabling everyone to get tested and know their status,” Howard says. “If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, even if you’ve already been tested, get tested again. That’s our main goal — to enable people to know their status, be able to isolate, and protect themselves and others.”
Removing Barriers to Care and Reaching Latinx Communities
The city’s most vulnerable communities continue to be the hardest hit, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Latinx communities are more likely to live in multigenerational or multi-family homes with limited ability to physically distance. Additionally problematic, many of the local and national guidelines and recommendations made three months ago to combat COVID-19 spread were not readily available in Spanish.
“The English-speaking communities were educated early on, but when we saw cases spiking in the Latinx communities, we had to provide education about COVID-19 recommendations and guidelines for Spanish-speaking communities,” says Paulo Hutson Solórzano, Latinx Outreach Consultant with Cempa. “This group is not able to meet the current criteria for relief. Whereas these individuals were once deemed ‘illegals’ and seen in a negative light, they’re now being considered essential workers.”
As Solórzano says, people in the Latinx communities have continued to work through the pandemic, building roads and homes, working in hotels and restaurants, and in agriculture. They’re an essential part of economic development in Chattanooga and yet are not allowed to receive government benefits related to COVID because of their possible status as an undocumented immigrant.
Solórzano and Howard worked with community partners, including Clinica Medicos and La Paz Chattanooga, to target areas that were being impacted by COVID. They developed strategic messaging about COVID, how to stop the spread, and where to get tested. With Cempa’s mobile clinic, the team was able to take testing directly to these communities.
“We’ve worked for years to build trust in Latinx communities so they have confidence in the services we provide, including COVID-19 testing and primary care services,” Solórzano says. “By going directly into these communities — rather than expecting them to come to us — we’re able to remove other barriers to health. Because of the trusting relationships we have forged, we’re able to provide transportation to services, food boxes from our amazing community partners, personal protective equipment (PPE), and primary health services.”
As the pandemic landscape continues to shift and change, Cempa remains committed to serving as a trusted resource for communities across our entire region.
“Our mission is to increase access to care and champion healthy communities,” Solórzano says. “Through Cempa’s mobile clinic and through our internal programs for medical assistance, we’re able to connect individuals to much-needed services.”
Are you or someone you know in need of COVID-19 testing? Visit our Events Page to see a calendar of upcoming testing events.