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Pandemic highlighted barriers Hispanic residents are facing, Cleveland councilwoman says

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Posted at 8:27 AM, Apr 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-17 08:27:30-04

CLEVELAND — The Hispanic community in Cleveland is tight-knit, family-driven, and one of the fastest growing populations, representing 13% of the city.

Forty percent of Cleveland Councilwoman Jasmin Santana’s Ward 14 is Hispanic. But early in the pandemic, Santana noticed a growing problem for the growing community.

“The pandemic revealed that the city and many organizations were not ready to respond to the huge crisis and meet the needs of the Hispanic population,” said Santana.

According to Santana, the language barrier between her residents and the vital COVID-19 information coming from the Cleveland Health Department put some residents at risk.

“Such as translating, announcements, bilingual COVID tracers and even data collectors,” she said. “There were people that were getting sick, they did not understand the instructions that were given.”

A city spokesperson said: "At the height of the pandemic, when the caseload was high, the Cleveland Department of Public Health had an estimated 80 contact tracers that included full-time, temporary staff, full-time staff that were reassigned to that position as well as volunteers performing that duty. Currently, we have 14 temporary staff working full time in that capacity. Since August, we’ve also been using the state’s contact tracers to provide support and bi-lingual contact tracers."

The statement went on to say: "We previously worked with and continue to work with a temp agency to assist us in hiring English-speaking and bi-lingual contact tracers. Once the agency identifies candidates who meet the requirements, they will be hired. In the meantime, we continue to use the language line, the assistance of bi-lingual staff and the Ohio Department of Health."

“When I found out there wasn’t a bilingual COVID tracer I was shocked,” said Santana. “To not have access to language or COVID tracers that are able to navigate you through this huge crisis is a huge issue. They don’t speak your language, this is fearful.”

Santana said she was let down, so her office and other community groups stepped up. They were translating COVID-19 newsletters, calls and social media announcements to Spanish.

Groups like Hispanic Roundtable, which is a nonprofit civic leadership organization whose purpose is to empower and serve the Hispanic community, according to its website.

Maureen Dee is a volunteer with Hispanic Roundtable. At the beginning of the pandemic, they were dedicated to providing resources to testing sites for the Hispanic community.

“We've established sort of a list of of ways in which we can reach the community through different Facebook pages, word of mouth,” said Dee. “The word has gotten out.”

The outreach has now focused on vaccination resources.

“We do it for them. We explain everything to them. We answer all of the questions in Spanish, obviously, and we tried to explain where these locations are, what to expect when they get there,” she said.

The group started talking with community partners and stakeholders about ways to reach the Hispanic community. Now, creating pop-up vaccination sites with partners like Neighborhood Family Practice, MetroHealth and the city of Cleveland.

Monday, Hispanic Roundtable is partnering with the city to host a pop-up vaccination site at Iglesia Hispana Pentecostal on West 43rd Street.

“They do recognize at this point the importance of having bilingual candidates at the city,” said Santana. “I just want to make sure that we don’t fall off the radar and time passes and we are at another pandemic and, once again, we are being reactive,” said Santana.

Santana is planning on moving her office to the Pivot Center for the Arts to serve more in the community and is asking the city to invest in making it a multi-cultural hub for anyone to come to who may need resources.

“By piloting a multi-cultural center that we are able to serve the Latino community from their own community, very grassroots, meeting them where they’re at so they can have access to city services,” she said.