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Access to Care

Behind one town’s efforts to vaccinate its Hispanic and Indigenous residents

Seymour6
Carter Barrett
/
Side Effects Public Media
Ana De Gante (right), ESL director at Seymour Community Schools, stands beside Miranda Keith Mateo Sebastian, a senior at Seymour High School. Sebastian speaks English, Spanish and an Indigenous Mayan language, Chuj, and helped interpret at local COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Trust, communication and humility were crucial to a small Indiana town’s vaccine distribution campaign. In a livestreamed conversation Monday, Side Effects Public Media discussed how leaders in Seymour worked to break language barriers and provide COVID vaccines to the town’s Hispanic and immigrant population, including the growing number of Indigenous Mayan people from Guatemala.

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In the hour-long discussion, Side Effects reporter Carter Barrett spoke with a few of the people instrumental in launching Seymour’s Hispanic Health Task Force. Panelists on the livestream included:

  • Bethany Daugherty — Schneck Medical Center’s health and wellness education specialist
  • Ashley Caceres — bilingual outreach and enrollment specialist for covering kids and families of Jackson County United Way
  • Whitney Amuchastegui — executive director of Su Casa Columbus
  • Ana De Gante — ESL director at Seymour Community Schools

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Barrett: A lot of people are interested in pursuing similar work, where do you start? 

Caceres: I think one of the big things was finding the right people. Who is this community going to for services, for help and for information? Other questions to ask are, ‘What is the community seeing, thinking and asking when they're hearing or wanting to learn about COVID information or just health information in general?’ And then I think the other thing is, ‘What is making medical care or medical information inaccessible?’

Barrett: What strategies have been successful when it comes to building trust and making sure the hospital is perceived as a trustworthy source? 

Daugherty: I think as hospital employees, we learned a lot about the community that we didn't know that, like, these churches were literally neighbors of the hospital. And it was just a great way to start building those relationships and building that trust, because we were willing to go to them.

Amuchastegui: Looking at your boots on the ground, so to speak. Who do you have that's already in the community and can serve as representatives, working from the ground up as opposed to adopting a top-down approach?

Daugherty: I just wanted to reiterate that goes both ways too, like vulnerability from each side, because I didn't have the answers going into this. There's strength in that because you learn from each other, and you can grow and you kind of figure out together what's going to work best for your community. We don't have the perfect answers. But we've at least started to have those hard conversations.

Barrett: Can you describe how you got the high school students on board, training them, and what do you think that added to the clinics?

DeGante: I think that those students help with their native language and communicate with parents and also our community. [It gave the community] more confidence that people that speak their native dialect were there to help them.

Caceres: I wouldn't go and say ‘run off to your local high school and grab all the high school students you can,’ right? I think it is really important to invest in interpreters and translators, if you have that capacity.

Barrett: As somebody who's not a member of the Hispanic community, how did you approach learning about these issues?

Daugherty: I think I've always tried to be very transparent, saying, I don't know what I don't know. So please teach me. I've always tried to be that trustworthy source and be consistent in my follow up to them.

The event was held in partnership with the Indiana Rural Health Association. 

This story comes from Side Effects Public Media — a public health news initiative based at WFYI. Follow Carter on Twitter: @carter_barrett.