Beth McKee-Huger: Doctor’s orders: Stay home. Support community health.

On the front line of health care in the pandemic, Nicky Bello answers the phone, “Good morning, Mustard Seed Community Health” and answers questions in Spanish and English.

“Do you have a fever? How long have you been feeling sick? Can we schedule a telemedicine appointment for medication refill? I’ll get the nurse on the line.”

Cherice Hazley does triage.

“What is the baby’s temperature? How is he eating? Any cough or congestion? Have you taken him out in public? Have you or his grandmother been exposed to anyone who might be sick?”

After consulting with Dr. Beth Mulberry, Hazley tells the mother to bring him in. Bello reminds her of current procedures: “Call from the car when you get to the parking lot; we’ll do intake over the phone; have your co-pay ready; wear a mask; we will phone when we are ready for you to come inside.”

Estefania Alfaro-Ruiz puts on masks and gloves and sanitizes every surface, then the patient comes in directly to the examination room, where Dr. Mulberry wears protective gear.

This is the plan — but today a patient brings a support person instead of coming alone; they tell Bello and Hazley that they don’t have a cough but cough repeatedly, putting the staff at risk. A patient is sent to the emergency department. Another is tested at Mustard Seed and, thankfully, the results are negative.

Mustard Seed is an extraordinary clinic. As a community health center, the team is concerned about the well-being of neighborhood residents as they are isolated at home. Do they have food? Need someone to deliver medications? Are they alone and scared or with household members who threaten them?

Community health workers Gloria McMasters and Joanne Foster call their neighbors to see what they need and pass along information about emergency resources. Pat Macfoy sends out updates about food distribution locations.

A new neighbor with a tiny infant and elderly grandfather, trying to get food without going out in public to expose the baby. A family grieving the tragic death of their young daughter, unable to have a real funeral. A mother far from her dying daughter, unable to be with her.

Even with the safety precautions they’ve taken to prevent infection from the coronavirus, Mustard Seed staff members, like other medical providers, risk their own health to take care of patients and neighbors.

Follow doctor’s orders: Stay home. Support community health.

But too many are not staying home.

Some have to go out to work and try, somehow, to keep social distance. They worry about how to maintain their jobs, home school their children, and avoid getting sick. Respect workers’ space.

Some have no home. The persistent shortage of affordable housing has left people out in the cold — literally. Shelters are heroically struggling to reduce crowding, especially for people with serious health problems. Advocate for public funding for hotels now and development of affordable housing soon.

Some cannot keep safe from abuse and stressful relationships in the home. Some houses are overcrowded, with household members coming and going in public and bringing risks home.

Some don’t know the risks due to misinformation. Public officials make false statements and religious leaders fill huge places of worship. Social media repeat inaccurate recommendations, confusing people about the severity of COVID-19.

Some don’t comprehend the risks because of living in their own world. NAMI (National Association for Mental Illness) has helpful resources about navigating the current reality.

As COVID-19 spreads, medical providers like Mustard Seed are at risk. Stay home. Support community health and food and housing and protection from abuse. Stop misinformation. Doctor’s orders.

Beth McKee-Huger is an Episcopal deacon, vegetable farmer, housing advocate and News & Record community columnist.

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