El Proyecto del Barrio Reopens Clinics After COVID-19 Contagion Forced Closures

By the nature of their work, healthcare workers are at high risk of infection from the coronavirus, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine, and the personnel at El Proyecto del Barrio are no exception.

Their clinics in Arleta and Northridge, which are part of the organization that has been at the forefront of healthcare services for underprivileged communities in the San Fernando Valley since the 1970s, had to close after several of their staff tested positive for COVID-19.

“Fortunately none of our staff got really sick. They self-quarantined, got tested and returned,” said Marlene Rowlett, director of Outreach and Community Relations for the organization.

The personnel were only allowed to return to work after testing again and showing they were negative.

Rowlett said some patients also tested positive for COVID-19, but have recuperated.

New Safety Measures

All the clinics have reopened following a thorough cleaning and disinfection. And the agency has adopted new measures to prevent further contagion.

“We’re going to have temperature checks of people before entering clinics, and we now have PPE equipment,” Rowlett said.

A $50,000 emergency grant from the medical aid organization Direct Relief (that is part of a $25 million COVID-19 Fund for Community Health) is also helping the clinics to bolster their safety measures.

The funds helped El Proyecto del Barrio purchase monitors to increase their telemedicine capabilities, and also to pay their workers while the clinics were closed.

“We are reaching out to patients by telephonic visits as much as we can because that’s the safest thing to do,” Rowlett said.

While some people still show up to their clinics as walk-ins without prior appointments, Rowlett said they are trying to conduct as many pre-visit evaluations as they can.

“Some patients (like those needing prenatal care) we still need to see. But we do as much screening as possible,” she said.

Anyone who calls the clinics is asked a number of questions to make sure they’re not infected with COVID-19. They are also scheduled for appointments at determined times to reduce agglomerations of patients inside the premises.

Other Services

Over its nearly 50-year existence, El Proyecto del Barrio has also provided clinics in the San Gabriel Valley, as well as providing child care centers, drug addiction counseling and employment services.

And despite the current challenges, they are still providing many of those services, albeit with some changes.

For instance, HIV prevention and drug addiction programs are now being conducted through the telephone with a “weekly class and giving them advice and counseling,” Rowlett said.

The Job Resource Center in Sun Valley is also providing “virtual” service whenever possible.

Those who need in-person services are given scheduled appointments at staggered times, so there are no more than one or two people receiving services inside the offices at the same time to avoid “group situations.”

“A lot of people at this time want to find out how to apply for unemployment or look for a job, and we’re still helping them,” Rowlett said.

The organization has also created a team which, on a weekly basis, take inventory of materials on hand and then provide what is needed at their different locations in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valley in terms of gowns, face shields and masks.

“In the beginning we spent a lot of time and energy to secure those items,” said Rowlett. But thanks to donations and purchases “we now have weeks/months of supplies.”

The idea is to not get caught empty-handed or unprepared for a situation that is unprecedented, and where safety protocols are constantly rearranged as the pandemic develops and needs change.

“The whole purpose is to serve people most in need, people who have no health insurance, who are on Medi-Cal, immigrant families,” notes Rowlett. 

“We are the first line of defense. Through it all — economic downturns, pandemic —we stay the course, and we want to be there for the people in need, or a community that is maybe forgotten.”

Telephonic medical visits are available. For more information, please visit  www.elproyecto.us.

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