CLEVELAND — The City of Cleveland is pledging to "re-educate" community health outreach workers after 5 On Your Side Investigators found some in the community violating the health guidelines they were supposed to promote.
The city said it trained 175 workers to go into neighborhoods with a high number of coronavirus cases and help educate residents of the risk as part of the mayor's Community Education and Awareness Campaign.
"These employees will be trained in safe engagement practices and key health messaging," said Mayor Frank Jackson when he introduced the plan earlier this month.
But 5 On Your Side Investigators found some of those employees ignoring health guidelines. Workers were caught on video not social distancing as they waited to load into vans, and sometimes not wearing masks even as went from door-to-door interacting with the public.
"If it was my loved ones they provided this information to, then I would be concerned," said Dr. Shanina Knighton, a clinical nurse scientist with Case Western Reserve University who specializes in infection prevention and control. "I love what it is that they're doing. There is a lack of education in communities, and we have to do a better job of getting residents that may not be able to access electronic information."
Knighton reviewed video and pictures obtained by 5 On Your Side Investigators of the workers as they went from house to house in groups distributing information about coronavirus to residents. In some cases, workers weren't wearing masks while in a van or approaching houses.
"If they’re passing out literature about using masks, and proper social distancing, it kind of goes against the model of practice what you preach," said Knighton.
While the video does show some workers following health guidelines, in other cases, crews working neighborhoods in Collinwood, Lee-Harvard, and Slavic Village seemed to ignore the same guidelines spelled out in the literature they handed to residents.
"With that mask not being on, it increases the risk of droplets falling down on to the literature," said Knighton after watching video of a city worker not wearing a mask hold a piece of literature in front of his face, and then hand it to a resident.
After sharing the video and pictures with the city, a spokesperson issued this statement Monday:
"Our first and foremost concern is, of course, the safety and health of our citizens and our City employees. We thank you for bringing this to our attention. Please continue to do so as we continually seek to improve this process. We will re-educate not only these employees but all who are going out into the community as part of this citywide effort to educate the hardest hit communities about the coronavirus."
Knighton hopes the lessons stick in the minds of workers this time.
"If the City of Cleveland is saying we are responsible for making sure that residents have adequate information, we have to also make sure that we’re setting the example," she said.
Knighton believes the program has a chance to make a real difference in the community, if it's done correctly.
"Some of them may or may not read that literature, but to be able to see an example of what that looks like, it can go a long way," said Knighton.
The pledge to re-train workers comes as the city says it is planning to expand the health outreach to more parts of the city this week.