Historically, underserved communities become increasingly vulnerable in times of crisis. Now, faced with an unprecedented pandemic, they are struggling to not only control the spread of COVID-19, but also to gain access to health care, food, shelter, technology and other basic needs.

As part of the ongoing commitment to supporting underserved communities, Massachusetts General Hospital launched its Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team. Comprised of staff from across the hospital and our communities, the team is co-led by Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, Vice President and Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, and Joan Quinlan, Vice President for Community Health at Mass General. The team is working to ensure that everything done to address COVID-19 at Mass General has equity and community health at its foundation.

Chelsea, Revere and other nearby areas have been particularly hard hit by this relentless virus, and, in response, the Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team has introduced the following efforts to help mitigate COVID-19 risks in these communities.

Ensuring Community Access to Information

Education is paramount in helping to control the spread of COVID-19. The Mass General Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team is assisting our underserved communities with the distribution of educational materials, including information about social distancing, what to do when sick and where to get help. We are ensuring our communications are provided in multiple languages, that all clinical interactions meet the needs of our diverse and multilingual populations and that the critical social needs of our communities are addressed. The Disparities Solutions Center has created a COVID-19 resources website dedicated to COVID-19 Multilingual, Disability & Community Health Resources, which is available to the public.

In addition, the Spanish Language Care Group (SLCG) launched in mid-April to support clinical teams in caring for patients with low-English proficiency who are hospitalized and being treated for COVID-19. Native Spanish-speaking Mass General physicians are available, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to assist with daily rounds, family updates, admissions and discharges, either in-person or virtually, on COVID patient care units and the Emergency Department.

Working with Community Partners to Address Serious Health Needs

The Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI) is working closely with community partners to address the social determinants of health, which are intensifying during this pandemic, including the need for food, access to health care and recovery services, and youth engagement.

  • The Healthy Chelsea Coalition is assisting with the emergency food response for the City of Chelsea, making sure that residents know about the daily distribution of 2,000 boxed meals for school children and their families. There is also collaborative work with community partners aimed at increasing access to food pantries and ensuring those who are isolated receive food directly to their door. Healthy Chelsea is also working to mitigate the growing trauma and mental health effects of COVID-19, both for residents and the vicarious trauma experienced by frontline staff
  • The Charlestown Coalition is connecting those in the recovery community with their Alcoholics Anonymous meetings by helping them host online meetings and coordinating virtual connections with recovery coaches and physicians. Coalition staff are keeping in close contact with their youth group members and their families, monitoring their needs and holding regular meetings remotely
  • The Revere CARES coalition is assisting the city in reaching residents who are fearful of receiving services and developing a more robust system to field calls from residents most in need. With the help of Union Capital Boston, the coalition is getting gift cards out to residents who need help with food and other essential services
  • MGH Youth Programs (jobs and career exposure along with college prep) are conducting virtual yoga classes yoga classes to help the Boston, Chelsea and Revere high school students cope with stress. They are also conducting college trivia games using Kahoot. Our staff continues to work with these young people around college acceptances, financial aid issues, and plans for the fall
  • CCHI is also identifying local food and meal delivery programs to get food directly to patients who have tested positive and need to isolate and are struggling with food insecurity

Helping Support the Chelsea Community and Nearby Areas

For nearly 50 years, Mass General has been a part of the City of Chelsea, operating a health center and benefiting from close relationships with many residents, groups and services in this community. Mass General remains committed to helping Chelsea, which has become the epicenter of COVID-19 in Massachusetts as the city with the highest rate of infection in the state.

“Our public health approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 is a four-part strategy of Identification, Mitigation, Isolation and Communication. It’s a phased approach, launching first in Chelsea, that’s very community-based, meaning working with community organizations and local governments to meet the community’s needs,” said Dr. Betancourt.

  • Identification: COVID-19 testing has expanded at our Respiratory Infection Clinic (RIC) at the Mass General Chelsea HealthCare Center for anyone—not just Mass General patients and regardless of their health insurance status and immigration status—who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Walk-ins are welcome. Open 8 am-8 pm, seven days a week
  • Mitigation: The team is working with the City of Chelsea to assemble and help distribute “care” kits—with 25,000 surgical masks, soap and educational information—throughout the community
  • Isolation: Mass General is providing 24/7 clinical support at 154 hotel rooms secured by the cities of Chelsea and Revere, for residents who are sick but cannot isolate safely.
  • Public Health Outreach: Mass General staff is assisting the City of Chelsea in making telephone calls to high-risk residents to provide education and updates. Spanish-speaking staff are also supporting COVID-19 patients by serving as interpreters in Chelsea. In addition, there are posted community-based videos in English and Spanish on COVID health topics and details about our Respiratory Infection Clinic (RIC) at the Mass General Chelsea HealthCare Center:

The Mass General Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team continues to be inspired by the community partners and the volunteers who help support underserved communities during this unprecedented time.

If you wish to learn more about how you can help the people of Chelsea during this pandemic, please visit the Chelsea Pandemic Response Team.