Linda Vang is a FIRM COVID-19 Equity Project (CEP) Community Health Worker (CHW) who speaks Hmong. She graduated from California State University, Fresno with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health Administration and a minor in Hmong and heard about FIRM as a college student.
“During my college years, I would volunteer by prepping food and cooking for the Fresno community which was being held every Friday at the St. Paul Catholic Newman Center near Fresno State. I heard about FIRM from community members who received food and lots of other social support services from them!” Trusting the reputation FIRM had built over the years with the Fresno community, Linda was excited to apply what she learned in college to her new role as CHW.
One of Linda’s central concerns is educating and advocating for the community. “I connect the community to FIRM by offering Hmong-English interpretation and translation services, helping people get the care they need, and providing culturally appropriate health education about COVID-19 through social media, Hmong radio, and Hmong TV.” In addition, Linda spends a lot of time at FIRM’s static site helping people get free COVID-19 tests.
On a typical morning at FIRM’s COVID-19 testing site, Linda collects demographic information from people getting a free COVID-19 test and guides them through the whole process. Linda also does health education outreach by informing people about the resources available through the COVID-19 Equity Project (CEP) like mental health resources, and other support services. She encourages people to follow the Fresno County and CDC guidelines as they wait for their COVID-19 test results at home. This process is repeated with each person who arrives to get COVID-19 testing until the day’s testing supplies are unavailable. At that point, Linda usually goes inside the Sharon Stanley-Rea Building to do contact tracing on those whose COVID-19 tests were positive.
For those who tested positive for COVID-19, and had to self-isolate but were concerned about paying their bills, Linda also helped them apply for financial assistance called the IQS – Isolation and Quarantine Support. “In the beginning, when the IQS form was introduced and unfamiliar to everyone, it was a little difficult to navigate. But I was able to help guide my client through the IQS application process and her application to receive financial assistance was approved! We were both grateful to know that she would soon receive help paying for her mortgage, buying food for her family, and help paying her bills.” Many Southeast Asian clients that come to FIRM and test positive for COVID-19 are also struggling financially.
In fact, over 1 million Southeast Asian Americans (SEAAs) are low-income, including about 460,000 who live in poverty. According to a report published in the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement, SEAAS were struggling with economic insecurity before COVID-19. Since the pandemic, economic insecurity for many SEAAs have been exacerbated. For example, “16%-30% of SEAAs worked in service industry jobs, many of which were impacted with closures because of COVID-19.” In addition, because many SEAAs work in cash-based jobs or lack immigration status, they are barred from accessing many of the federal government issued economic support payments and other stimulus measures and benefits (Dinh, Mariategue, Byon, 2020, p. 2). While these types of systemic issues make it even more difficult for SEAAs to survive the impact of COVID-19, Linda and the many other CHWs working with FIRM and CEP, are determined to ensure SEAAs and other underserved communities in Fresno get the tools they need to survive this pandemic.
As Linda continues to advocate for her community, she’s learning that she really enjoys working with FIRM and the UCSF staff to help bring the necessary resources to those who most need it. “I realized that a lot of the community members lack access to critical resources or just don’t know about the services that are provided for them. Therefore, it is very important to outreach to the community and let them know how to utilize the resources that FIRM provides for them. What I enjoy doing as a CHW is interacting with each unique individual. I enjoy providing resources for the community that I serve and helping people understand COVID-19 prevention and testing through FIRM.”
Linda also realizes that the challenges revealed during this pandemic highlight something that has existed in our health care system, especially for communities like Southeast Asian Americans: “that the road to recovery will require long-term systemic changes as opposed to short-term fixes” (Dinh, Mariategue, Byon, 2020, p. 3). However, our hope lies in remembering that like our elders and generations before us, we will continue their “legacy of resilience,” by providing direct services like free COVID-19 testing and calling on the USA to address a healthcare and overall social system that continues to disproportionately impact SEAAs and other underserved communities.
FIRM provides free COVID-19 testing every Monday from 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM or until testing supplies last on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you have questions, please contact FIRM at (559) 487-1500 or visit www.fresno.ucsf.edu/cep/
Written by CEP Staff Jeremiah Sataraka