2020 Hero IBC Highmark CATE HispanicOutreach COVID-19

Mobilizing a culturally sensitive response to COVID-19

Working front-line jobs, and generally unable to work from home or take a day off when sick, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is high among Hispanics across the U.S. The rate of infection among Latinos is 73 infections per 10,000, compared to 23 per 10,000 for non-Hispanic whites. In addition to an increased risk of exposure through employment, 25 percent of Hispanics live in multi-generational homes, making it more complicated to socially distance and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable family members, such as the elderly. 

Despite these risk factors, Hispanics and other populations of color are unfortunately less likely to seek treatment or testing than whites. Factors including lack of insurance coverage—in 2017, 25 percent of the adult Hispanic population was uninsured—as well as limited access to testing, language barriers, limited to no sick days and fears related to immigration status often lead people within the Latino community to delay or forgo care all together.

In Pennsylvania, home to more than 970,000 Hispanics, a partnership between the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, the state Department of Health, Latino Connection and Highmark Blue Shield is bringing COVID-19 testing and bilingual education directly to some of the state’s most vulnerable populations. Utilizing a mobile testing unit, known as CATE—Community-Accessible Test and Education—the program has made nearly 30 stops in 15 counties, both rural and urban, conducting hundreds of COVID-19 tests and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to residents at no-cost.

“Education and testing are essential to ending the devastation of this pandemic in our communities,” said Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation. “Particularly among minorities and communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”

L to R: Independence Blue Cross Foundation President Lorina Marshall-Blake; Latino Connection Founder and CEO George Fernandez; Highmark VP of Community Affairs Kathleen McKenzie

The CATE vehicle is the first mobile unit dedicated exclusively to COVID-19 education and mobile testing.  Touring the state, CATE creates access to walk-up and drive-thru testing sites and provides resources in English and Spanish. While specifically reaching out to the Hispanic community, testing is available to anyone who comes to the CATE vehicle.

CATE staff assisting community members before they receive COVID-19 testing.

“The success of CATE’s first 30 stops across Pennsylvania in August and September was the launching point for what will now be a sustained initiative to combat both COVID-19 and the flu, particularly as we move into prime months for illness,” said George Fernandez, Founder and CEO of Latino Connection. “With an additional 40 stops on the schedule and the added resources of flu shots and food and nutritional items, CATE is playing an imperative role in the health and wellness of Pennsylvania, especially in our underserved communities where health disparities remain a major concern.”

Even before COVID-19 hit, Hispanic communities in Pennsylvania were facing increased health risks from chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. And the presence of these underlying illnesses has been associated with increased risk of death from COVID-19. CATE is a joint effort to build healthier communities by improving awareness of health risks and expanding access to care.

Dr. Rachel Levine (center), Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, is learning more about the mobile van.

“This partnership is helping ensure Pennsylvanians, no matter where they live or what language they speak, have access to COVID-19 testing,” said Daniel Onorato, executive vice president, chief corporate affairs officer for Highmark Health. “We ultimately hope to touch thousands of residents through the CATE program, which complements our ongoing efforts to address barriers to good health including social factors and chronic conditions.”


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