IMMOKALEE -- As COVID-19 concerns continue, local organizations continue the effort to get the word out and ease tensions among our undocumented population.
Kristine Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Collier County, said immigration status information is not being collected when residents get tested for COVID-19. Hollingsworth reiterated that only names, addresses, and phone numbers are collected from those getting the COVID-19 test. The goal is to help aid contact tracers determine who a patient may have come in contact with before and after the test.
In July 2020, Partners in Health, a non-profit based in Boston Massachusetts, and Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida teamed up to begin training local Immokalee residents as part of its promotora program. The goal was to spread vital health information and empower the fight against COVID-19.
“Immokalee is one of the most vulnerable and poor communities in all of Florida,” said Matt Hing, who is helping lead PIH’s work in the area. “Most of the people in this community are essential workers; if they don’t work directly in the tomato picking, they work in construction, the service industry, or as landscapers for residents in Naples.”
“It’s not enough to just do health messaging,” said Hing. “You have to go door-to-door and have that person-to-person contact and also address the social determinants – housing conditions, labor protections, financial precarity, documentation status – that enable someone to quarantine, self-isolate, or not.”
“Residents have the opportunity to ask questions and share their concerns with someone they trust,” said Mark Lemke, Health Center Administrator with the Florida Department of Health in Collier County. “They appreciate someone taking the time to help them understand how they can best protect themselves and their family.”
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers credits the assistance and collaboration efforts of organizations like Misión Peniel and the Partners in Health.
“Having PIH join us in Immokalee has been absolutely invaluable,” said Gerardo Reyes Chavez of the CIW. “From the very start of the pandemic, we have been sounding the alarm about the crowded and substandard housing and working conditions that would serve as a superconductor for the spread of the coronavirus here in Immokalee and in similar farm worker communities throughout Florida, but it was always an uphill battle to convince state and local authorities to take action because we are not a health organization. Having PIH lend its voice, expertise, and resources to that effort definitely opened doors that were far too hard for us to open alone.”
To learn more about Partners in Health please visit https://www.pih.org/. For more information about resources provided by the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, call 239-675-7080 or email HCNcovid@healthcareswfl.org. Multilingual teams are available to assist callers as needed.