Reflections on COVID-19 and My Service Year

While I always imagined closing out my service term in my host site at Amundsen High School, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to pivot my focus areas to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We often hear and read about the pandemic disproportionately impacting Black, Native, and Brown populations, and Chicago is no exception—Chicago’s South and West Sides have been the hardest hit areas in regard to the spread of illness, and this further highlights the racial and economic disparities within the city. The edifice of our healthcare structure has also shifted, with providers and clinics transitioning to telehealthcare, and potentially excluding elderly patients and patients without phone or computer access. With every sector of our world shifting and adjusting to the demands of this novel virus, it has felt unsettling to witness some of the shortcomings of our public health response. However, federally qualified health centers like Erie Family Health Centers  continue to serve at the forefront of this crisis by supporting patient needs above all else.

Many of our patients at Erie Family Health Centers have been negatively impacted by the economic and social ramifications of COVID-19 and need extra support to get connected to important social services. Erie has a team of folks conducting outreach to patients utilizing telehealth services to assess patient needs and follow-up with appropriate care management. I joined this team as a part of my teleservice term and have been able to connect with many patients who have been impacted by COVID-19. Most of the patients I serve  are experiencing a loss of income, missed rent payments, food insecurity, and struggles taking care of children. Compounded with these stressors is the fact that many of these patients are also dealing with caring for themselves or loved ones who have contracted COVID-19. This immense pressure is difficult to navigate for anyone, especially when many services still exclude undocumented folks.

My role on this team involves making phone calls to patients who have screened positive for needing resources and connecting them with appropriate services in the Chicagoland area. I remember one poignant phone call I made to an 80-year-old, male patient experiencing homelessness on Chicago’s West Side. As we started chatting about some of his needs, he disclosed to me that he has been drug-free for 40 years now, and this past year is when he started seeing a primary care practitioner to manage his health. Although he became homeless recently, he said that his health is the best it’s ever been and that as long as his health is okay, he will be happy. He thanked me for checking on him and our call ended. His story is a testament to the resilience of the communities we serve, and a reminder that even simple check-in calls can really make someone feel heard and valued.

During this part of my service term supporting COVID-19 affected patients and their families, my own privileges and challenges have been put into perspective. As a community of healthcare professionals, we must continue to fight for equitable services for our patients and go above and beyond to address every need our patient has. Pandemic or not, the future of healthcare depends on it.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Meghal Sheth.

Meghal is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - Amundsen.