COVID-19 Hotline Beats Misinformation One Call at a Time
Early in the pandemic, misinformation was spreading fast both online and offline. CEAL team members in Texas wanted to make sure residents who’d been hardest hit by the pandemic could get up-to-date facts about COVID-19 testing and vaccines easily in places beyond the Internet and social media. So, in April 2020, the team launched Texas’s first bilingual COVID-19 telephone-based hotline.
At first, the program focused mainly on making sure the state’s Community Health Workers – including the Promotores in Hispanic and Latino communities – could pick up the phone and immediately access verified, accurate information in words and language that the people they care for could understand.
As the pandemic evolved, so did the hotline. In addition to facts, the team also started providing COVID-19 testing and vaccine access details in English and Spanish. In spring 2021, the hotline grew into a full-fledged call center, dramatically increasing the number of calls operators could answer in both English and Spanish.
The hotline’s mission has remained constant as it has evolved, says Venus Ginés, a Texas CEAL team member and President and Founder of Día de la Mujer Latina® Inc., a Houston-based group promoting healthy behaviors within the underserved Latino community. Ultimately, the program hopes to “build trust by being a resource for our Community Health Workers, Promotores and other community and faith-based ministries,” she adds.
The expanded hotline – called the Telehealth Community Navigation (TCN) Center – answers more calls from Community Health Workers and also offers services directly to people in the community. An “Ask a Nurse” option, for example, connects callers with a registered nurse who answers medical questions in Spanish and English.
"Community Health Workers/Promotores are excellent sources of information, skilled listeners, and trusted messengers who can help find solutions to community challenges, no matter what those threats are."
Soon, the TCN Center will be promoted via a broad network of local and national partner organizations, including Univision and local television stations in the United States and Puerto Rico.
While the hotline’s focus is currently COVID-19, Ginés predicts that shortages of accurate, reliable, and real-time health resources in both English and Spanish will continue long after the pandemic’s urgency has slowed. So she and her team are thinking big about what’s next in COVID-19 public health communication and beyond.
“Telehealth Community Navigation is a way that a trusted member of the community can be trained to debunk misinformation, begin a conversation with someone who may be in need of education and navigation services, whether for physical or behavioral health, whenever needed, and wherever the person is,” she says.
Among their ideas: on-call Behavioral Health Community Navigators, who are certified Community Health Workers/Promotores with bilingual training in mental health first aid. These navigators will address the current lack of culturally competent bilingual mental health services in communities. The TCN team is also exploring ways to respond to questions beyond the telephone, including questions sent in from social media channels.
Finally, the hotline’s expertise may grow to include other common health conditions and general vaccine resources. For this effort, the TCN would promote health equity by providing vital community services and debunking myths, rumors, and misconceptions beyond COVID-19 topics. This work would align with No Más/No More, a public health messaging campaign that educates communities about the harms of misinformation.
Ginés often says, "Misinformation + Miscommunication = Mistrust. [When equipped with facts] Community Health Workers/Promotores are excellent sources of information, skilled listeners, and trusted messengers who can help find solutions to community challenges, no matter what those threats are."
Questions about COVID-19?
Access the Telehealth Community Navigation Center: English: 281-801-5285 and Español: 281-801-9590
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