Over the last 12 months COVID-19 has highlighted the health disparities that exist in our community. Those disparities were magnified by the pandemic, highlighting how often a significant portion of our community is not meaningfully considered when making decisions.
The Immigrant & Latinx Solidarity Group (ILSG) came together to coordinate how we as community members could best support our Latinx and immigrant community members during the COVID pandemic and beyond. We are educators, community advocates, lawyers, business leaders, healthcare workers, college students, parents, and more, and have been meeting weekly for nearly a year.
The ILSG repeatedly advocated for culturally appropriate COVID-19 prevention and vaccine messaging to be shared in Spanish. In January, for the first time since the pandemic began, the Chelan-Douglas Health District had real time Spanish interpretation at a vaccine related press conference.
While real-time interpretation is a step in the right direction, we also expect the Chelan-Douglas Health District to consistently communicate health messages to everyone in our community, regardless of their language ability.
We have learned from this experience and see opportunities to improve the local administration of our public health system. Our elected officials are not public health experts, yet they have significant influence on public health related decisions in our community.
Our health district’s response to COVID-19 was significantly impacted by the local Board of Health, which is comprised of locally elected officials who do not reflect the entire community. Think about it this way: If you need emergency surgery, a doctor shouldn’t have to waste time educating an elected official about the merits of the surgery.
When we entered into the pandemic, the Latinx community was disproportionately impacted due to their working and living conditions. Yet decisions were made by people who didn’t have ties to the Latinx community, nor did they have the health background to lead us through this unprecedented challenge.
Changing the makeup of the health district board extends beyond Chelan and Douglas counties. For this reason, ILSG supports House Bill 1152 (HB 1152), which is currently under consideration in Olympia. Under HB 1152, we would continue to have elected officials on the board of health.
But it would also provide seats for community members and healthcare providers to use their expertise on the board. Implemented correctly, HB1152 would meaningfully include voices from all parts of our community and strengthen the health system that cares for all of us.
We appreciate the hard work the health department staff has been doing over the last year. We know this work has been exceptionally challenging.
Our ask is that regardless of HB 1152, the Chelan-Douglas Board of Health puts equity at the forefront of their structure and decision making, truly advocating for the rich and diverse people and sectors of our community. Equity must be part of our practice.
Immigrant & Latinx Solidarity Group
Xaxira Velasco Ponce de León