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Physician Helps Reach Out to Latinx Community During Pandemic

Andrew B. Reisman, MD
American Board of Family Medicine
Specialty: Family Medicine

An incidental meeting at a conference in early 2020 helped forge a coalition and brought critical COVID-19 education and services to Latinx citizens in Gainesville, Georgia.

“After his panel discussion at the American Medical Association State Advocacy Summit, a few of us from the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) stopped by to meet John King, Georgia’s new Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner,” said Andrew Reisman, MD. “Within minutes, he asked me if I had any connections in the Gainesville Latinx community because it had a concerningly low number of insured people, which can be an indicator of a lower quality of health.”

Through his wife, a county magistrate, Dr. Reisman was able to put King in touch with Norma Hernandez, an interpreter in the Georgia court system with strong ties to the Gainesville Latinx community. A meeting for May was set up for Mr. King to address the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, an influential group that could help. Pleased to have helped them make that connection, Dr. Reisman stepped aside and went back to caring for his patients and serving as MAG president. But COVID-19 had other plans.

By mid-April, Gainesville was named the nation’s eighth hottest spot in the nation for COVID-19 cases. Dr. Reisman was invited to a socially-distanced meeting by Ms. Hernandez to discuss this health crisis. In a closed Mexican restaurant in the heart of Gainesville, the “Hall County Latino COVD-19 Task Force” was created to quickly bring education and services to the Latinx population. The Medical Association of Georgia, Georgia Department of Health, Vital Foods, LLC, Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, Northeast Georgia Health System, Georgia Department of Health, and local religious community had at least one representative on the task force.

Known as the “Chicken Capital of the World,” Gainesville had a number of poultry plants with a significant number of Latinx workers who were contracting COVID-19. Reaching out to workers at these plants about curbing the spread of the virus at home and at work would be critical. However, a major obstacle to success would be the general mistrust of the government in the Latinx population. A majority of that community did not believe the government that COVID-19 was a serious problem. Therefore, they did not engage in social distancing, wearing masks, or getting tested. They also were suspicious about contact tracing. They immediately needed to hear advice from trusted, non-government sources in the places that mattered to them, including their employers, religious leaders, physicians, and reporters.

The task force quickly acquired a large number of masks and made them available for free at Latinx establishments. Signs were made and blanketed the community that indicated “No masks, no service.” A poultry company donated a fogger to disinfect taxi cabs, which many employees used to travel to work. With a kickoff event attended by the governor, the task force arranged for COVID-19 testing to be held in the community, as opposed to requiring people to go to a health department office or physician. The poultry companies educated the public about the measures they took to keep employees safe, including installing plexiglass barriers on the production line and setting up tents outside for socially-distanced breaks. Other non-poultry businesses, including the local Wrigley manufacturing site, started implementing those measures, as well. Within just a couple of weeks, task force members participated in dozens of media interviews, in English and Spanish, to help educate the public about topics from handwashing to living safely in an active, multi-generational home.

“I am thrilled to report that after peaking in early May, the number of COVID-19 cases in Gainesville dropped significantly and we were no longer a national hotspot,” said Dr. Reisman. “Everyone in this community is a hero—the heart-warming charity and caring about neighbors that I saw made me so proud to live here.”

Dr. Reisman shakes his head when he remembers back to an October 2019 MAG House of Delegates meeting. An interstitial slide with survey data popped up on the screen. The question posed to the 200 attendees was “What’s your biggest 2020 concern?” and 10-12 people indicated that they were concerned about a global pandemic. “My colleagues and I chuckled a little when we saw that response, because we were concerned with ‘real’ things like surprise billing, pharmacy benefit managers, and insurance affordability. It was literally impossible for me to imagine then the global pandemic that we are living through now.”

Certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, Dr. Reiman practices family medicine with Longstreet Clinic in Oakwood, Georgia. He is the current president of the Medical Association of Georgia and serves on Governor Brian Kemp’s 15-person Coronavirus Task Force. He also has been appointed to serve on the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

(Published: September 8, 2020)

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