Catholic Charities to provide COVID-19 tests, vaccines to underserved groups

PHOTOS COURTESY OF ANDREI JACKAMETS/COMPLETE CARE MANAGEMENT

The New Jersey Department of Health has enlisted Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton to help provide critically needed COVID-19 health education, testing, contact tracing and vaccine support to underserved groups in Central Jersey, including Latino and Black communities and documented and undocumented immigrants.

Catholic Charities was awarded funding, through the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium to:

  • Help build a statewide, bilingual, multicultural “COVID Community Corps” health worker workforce trained through the New Jersey Department of Health Colette Lamothe-Galette Community Health Worker Institute – and then put those certified community health workers to work.
  • Educate the community by creating wellness groups, working directly with vulnerable and hard-to-reach individuals through in-home engagement and multiple languages, and providing safe spaces for immigrants to ask questions and receive information.
  • Remove barriers and increase access for marginalized groups. This includes assistance in vaccine pre-registration, appointment scheduling, technology assistance, and resource referrals for those who need transportation or childcare vouchers.
  • Serve as a COVID-19 vaccine administration and testing site.

    Catholic Charities will lead this work throughout Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.

    “We know education is a key intervention in promoting good health and well-being,” Catholic Charities’ Nurse Executive/Director of Nursing Lisa Merritt said in a prepared statement. “We are excited to be at the forefront of this initiative and look forward to making a positive impact on the communities we serve.”

    Healthcare leaders and others have voiced growing concerns about inequities in vaccine access, with immigrants and communities of color especially impacted – even as those demographic groups have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to the statement.

    The state’s vaccination data, as of March 8, shows that White residents have received 59% of the doses administered; Latino residents, 6%; Black residents, 4%; and Asian residents, 6%, according to the statement. The racial/ethnic background of 25% was other/unknown.

    At the same time, Latino and Black residents represent 37% of the state’s COVID-19 cases – and 45% of hospitalizations, state data shows, according to the statement.

    “The point of this program is to target an underserved, marginalized population,” Susan Loughery, associate executive director of Catholic Charities, said in the statement. “Equity for COVID vaccine access and testing is critical in order to achieve public health objectives.”

    Immigration restrictions in recent years have presented a unique barrier to vaccine access for the Latino community, many of whom consequently regard government initiatives with suspicion and fear, according to the statement.

    “There’s a lot of mistrust in the Latino community about whether or not any of the information they put into the vaccine pre-registration site would be distributed to other government entities,” Roberto Hernandez, El Centro’s director, said in the statement. “That’s why having it here at El Centro is so important, because the community trusts us. They trust El Centro and Catholic Charities. We have been in the community for many years, providing all sorts of services.”

    Catholic Charities also is working through the Diocese of Trenton’s 99 parishes to educate the public and improve access to vaccines, focusing especially on those with large Latino or multicultural congregations. This COVID-19 outreach is part of the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases (ELC) project, a statewide initiative providing resources to enhance detection, response, contact tracing and prevention efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to the statement.

    The project is administered by the New Jersey Department of Health Division of Family Health Services and the Maternal Child Health Consortia, through a partnership with the Central Jersey Family Health Consortium as a regional grantee.

    For more information on this initiative, contact Roberto Hernandez of El Centro, 327 S. Broad St., Trenton, at rhernandez@cctrenton.org or 609-394-2056; or Lisha Loo-Morgan of Parish Services at lloo-morgan@cctrenton.org.

    For information about Catholic Charities, contact Dana DiFilippo, Catholic Charities communications, at ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or 215-756-6277.