Immigrant Doctors Network Begins Reopening in NYC’s Hardest Hit Communities

June 9, 2020

In a major step forward for NYC, SOMOS – a non-profit, physician-led network of over 2,500 diverse health care providers primarily serving immigrant communities in New York City.

Today announced a comprehensive plan to start to safely reopen 284 of its practices under state government and health official guidelines.

Hundreds of doctors and clinical and non-clinical staff members, largely Latino and Chinese, will be back at work at their community practices on the front lines of care to provide routine health care services and start offering COVID-19 testing.

The network of immigrant and minority doctors has also created a robust protocol to ensure that all medical offices are meeting the health needs of their diverse patient population. The reopening is welcome news for thousands of SOMOS patients who live in the hardest-hit communities in New York City and have urgent needs that have been delayed by the pandemic.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has severely impacted the city’s immigrant communities, who have historically been isolated by language, income, and other socioeconomic factors that have been exacerbated during the pandemic.

In fact, data released by the New York City Department of Health shows that neighborhoods with high concentrations of low-income and black and Latino people are suffering the highest death rates from COVID-19 in New York City.

“This pandemic showed us how vulnerable immigrant communities are to a deadly virus outbreak. We have been hit the hardest and no reopening conversation is possible without a plan to test and treat immigrants and create a better system for the long haul,” said Dr. Ramon Tallaj, Chairman and Founder of SOMOS. “We all understand the crisis at the hospital level, but it’s remarkable that in the midst of this overwhelming crisis of hospitalizations, people do not forgot about the other frontline health care workers – the primary care doctors and nurses, the “silent safety net” of health care. And now, by smartly and carefully reopening these practices and clinics, our trusted community doctors are returning to help restore the health of our communities and further address the social determinants of health that have made many of us vulnerable during this pandemic.”

SOMOS has created protocols and resources for clinical and non-clinical staff, including those at 50 new SOMOS dental practices, to safely and effectively reopen practices to protect the health and safety of staff and patients.

These protocols include access to necessary personal protective equipment, COVID-19 and antibody testing for staff before returning to the office, increased hygiene and cleaning measures, screening of patient needs before arrival to the clinic, and staggering of appointments to minimize on-site contact and ensure proper distancing standards.

As part of the early and rapid response at the outset of the outbreak in New York City, SOMOS established telemedicine services in three languages, allowing patients to continue interacting with their doctors. This channel has been critical to ensuring that patients are not taking unwarranted risks to leave their homes to see their doctors while having the convenience of talking through concerns that help determine if they should be tested for COVID-19.

The network created the state’s first comprehensive trilingual – Spanish, Chinese, and English – factsheet to educate New Yorkers, as well as working with government and health officials to track and report the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in the City. In addition to the telemedicine and PSAs, SOMOS also created protocols and resources to ensure that the majority of New York City’s immigrant population remains informed during the pandemic.

These clinics and medical offices reopen amidst the first national polling of Latinos that reveals that 66% of Latinos have difficulty finding necessities such as medicine, food, and household supplies. The new poll also found that 57% of Latinos in the U.S. had to cancel or delay medical appointments, while 20% have lost their employer-provided health insurance.

From pre-existing conditions to families living in multigenerational homes, the odds were stacked against immigrant communities. One of the challenges experienced during this pandemic is the inability of household members to self-isolate in suspected cases, which adds to the increased rate of infection among family members.

SOMOS has been at the forefront of advocating with state and local officials to ensure to spotlight the plights of immigrant and minority communities and push for critical health care resources for the population.

SOMOS has also led a widespread effort to ensure New Yorkers have a hot meal and one less thing to worry about in this crisis. SOMOS operates 15 food distribution centers across the City – in partnership with World Central Kitchen and Maestro Cares Foundation – providing a total of over 12,000 meals per day to meet the growing need of New Yorkers. In addition to fresh grab-and-go meals, SOMOS distributes fresh produce from local farmers’ markets and essential kitchen supplies and delivers meals to the homebound.

As these practices reopen, SOMOS will continue operating its trilingual testing sites in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, where it has tested more than 50,000 New Yorkers since March. SOMOS testing sites, as well as the medical practices and clinics, are staffed by culturally competent family and community doctors who speak the same language as their patients.

They are prepared to translate critical health information and are capable of addressing the anxiety, apprehension, and cultural barriers to health care access that affect immigrant New Yorkers, regardless of residency status.

SOMOS is a non-profit, physician-led network of over 2,500 health care providers serving over 700,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in New York City. Launched in 2015 by its Chairman Dr. Ramon Tallaj, SOMOS is the largest and only physician-led performance provider system participating in the New York State Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP).

The SOMOS network includes providers delivering culturally competent care to patients in some of New York City’s most vulnerable populations, particularly Latino, Asian, African-American and immigrant communities throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.

Photo credit: Somos care conference in Harlem.

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