RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — VCU Health has partnered with over 10 community organizations to help Latinos living in Virginia get the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 in a way that is culturally relevant.

Like many things, the Latino Education Outreach Working Group started because of COVID-19. For the past five years, VCU Health has been engaged with community partners in the development of a health equity initiative.

The goal was always to make sure everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as can be. When COVID-19 hit and many reports started coming out about the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 in communities of color, Chief of Health Impact for VCU Health Sheryl Garland knew they had to pivot their focus.

“If we were going to stay true to the principles of health equity then we needed to figure out what were some strategies that needed to be put in place to close or reduce the health disparities for people living in black and brown communities,” Garland told 8News during a phone interview.

So, they established the workgroups focusing on African American and Latino people.

One of the first tasks was to reach out to partners around the Central Virginia region serving the Latino community. Partners include VCU, VCU Health, Daily Planet, Richmond City and Henrico County Health Districts, Richmond City Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (formerly known as the Office of Multicultural Affairs), Henrico County Public Relations, Chesterfield County Health Department, Capital Area Health Network, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, Health Brigade, Virginia Latino Advisory Board, La Casa de la Salud, Bon Secours Mercy Health and Sacred Heart Center.

“One of the critical issues that came up immediately was making sure that the information that was being shared both in written form or written form about COVID-19 was culturally appropriate,” Garland said.

VCU Health’s marketing team started coming up with campaigns, posters and video content. The team also worked on translating information from the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC.

One instance that Garland remembers is when they were working on informational videos they thought of just translating ones they already had made for the English-speaking community. But community partners spoke up and suggested that the videos be reproduced and include a cast that reflected the Latino population.

“Thank goodness for our partners who were around the table and said that is not good enough,” Garland said.

The partners have helped the workgroup navigate decisions when it comes to appropriate context and language.

“It is important to make sure that you have the voices of the individuals you want to serve engaged in developing your strategies,” Garland emphasized.

Karla Ramos, Manager of Richmond City Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement, said it feels good to have a seat at the table and be included in conversations regarding the community she serves.

“I did appreciate when VCU took the lead to address [issues] because of the high numbers of COVID in the community,” Ramos said. “They gathered all of the health clinics, health providers and VCU established this workgroup to have a coordinated response and identify the needs,”

Ramos said that the strategies they are implementing have helped the community stay informed.

“I think one of the main needs that we had and we still have sometimes is the need to generate local content because most of the content the community was seeing and getting was national. So we needed to bring the community to understand what was going on here — in our own backyards,” Ramos added.

She said that the VCU marketing team has the resources and has been able to allocate time to create much-needed local content. The content was made available for all partners to share and they were asked to provide feedback and review translations.

“I think they listened to us — they still do,” Ramos told 8News.

Community outreach in person has been critical but also challenging. Especially, when the Latino community prefers oral communication.

“[They are] relying a lot on written communication, when our community culturally we are an oral culture. We like to speak, tell stories, and just converse,” Ramos said.

Ramos said that is a cultural difference that needs to be understood and adapt community response to fit that.

One of the strategies being used to help create that relationship has been the use of Facebook Live. One community partner, La Casa de La Salud, has been hosting these live conversations to help those who have questions.

La Casa de La Salud was founded in 2014 and its purpose is to improve the health of Latinos living in the Richmond metro area.

Dr. Cecilia Barbosa, who has partnered with the VCU workgroup through Virginia Latino Advisory Board and works closely with La Casa de La Salud said she wanted to stay connected and know what is going on locally and nationally in the state.

“I think it’s been a very helpful group for continuously sharing information or else we would all be going in our own direction. Having this group that comes together on a regular basis is very helpful. We are constantly pivoting to see what do we do next,” Dr. Barbosa said.

Dr. Barbosa echos the thoughts of Ramos and Garland when it comes to communication. She said that it’s important for people to receive information that is accurate and culturally relevant.

“I think it’s a continuous learning experience for all of us to find the best way of communication, best time, approaches to where we can really reach those, especially those who have been paying attention to sources that have been giving them incorrect information,” Dr. Barbosa said.

The VCU workgroup meets every other Wednesday.