In April 2020, student leaders of Bridgeport Free Clinic (BFC) began an online initiative to provide language concordant and up-to-date information on COVID-19 to Chinese American communities in Chicago. With the help from Dr. Jonathan Lio (MD), Dr. Valerie Press (MD) and patient care coordinator Laura Sterling (RN), BFC provided an avenue for underserved Chinese-speaking communities to ask COVID-related medical questions to healthcare workers at UChicago Medicine. As of August, the BFC COVID-19 Q&A reached over 2,500 community members through its website, YouTube Channel and WeChat group.
The BFC COVID-19 Q&A website can be accessed at https://bridgeportfreeclinic.wixsite.com/covid19.
Providing language-concordant services has been one of the clinic’s core priorities. Since its conception, Bridgeport Free Clinic has been dedicated to providing healthcare services to underserved Asian and Asian-American communities, a large proportion of which speak Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese. Language barriers not only prevent minority communities from accessing care in person. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of English proficiency can profoundly limit a community’s access to crucial information on self-protection and care. While BFC ceased its clinical activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the student leaders were eager to help our patient community stay safe at a distance.
Social media has allowed us to meet our community where they are – on WeChat. We created an official WeChat group where community members can submit their COVID-19 related to medical questions to us anonymously. Using to the social network of our partner organizations and community members, our group quickly grew to include more than 500 community members, asking a plethora of important questions:
“Can I avoid getting severe COVID-19 symptoms?”
“What medicines can I take if I have COVID-19 and am recovering at home?”
“Can I go to hospitals for non-COVID related illnesses?”
“Can mosquitos spread COVID-19?”
To provide a sense of reassurance to our community, we invited Dr. Jonathan Lio to answer these questions through video interviews. As a Chinese American physician and a leader in UChicago Medicine’s pandemic response, Dr. Lio helped community members distinguish between facts and myths about the pandemic, and learn about the methods and resources to protect themselves. To ensure vital information becomes available in a timely and digestible manner, student leaders at BFC worked speedily and collaboratively to edit interview footage and provide translations. In the span of two months, we produced a total of 28 videos for the community.
In addition to the Q&A video series, Bridgeport Free Clinic partnered with the UChicago Emergency Department to create a virtual tour of the ED during COVID-19. As she walked viewers through each ED section, Patient Care Coordinator Laura Sterling explained the extensive efforts taken to ensure patient safety, including separate rooms for ILI patients and non-ILI patients, increased capacity through newly constructed beds, and negative flow pressure rooms to ensure one-way ventilation of air. We aimed to reassure the community of the tremendous care and ingenuity healthcare that went into making hospitals safe for all patients and emphasize the continued importance of seeking care for both COVID-19 and non COVID-19 illnesses.
COVID-19 has posed a distinctive challenge for medical students serving in free clinics. The suspension of clinical activities pushed us to reevaluate our assets as future doctors, and reimagine our engagement with our patients. We look forward to serving patients in-person, hopefully in the near future, and we are grateful to have had this opportunity to think outside the box.
Thank you to all those who have made this initiative possible, including Dr. Jonathan Lio, Dr. Valerie Press, Laura Sterling, and our deans Dr. Wei Wei Lee and Dr. Jim Woodruff at Pritzker. And special thanks to our creative and dedicated board members Anthony Hung, Amanda Zhang, Julia Ran, Zi-Yi Choo, David Cao, Allen Zhu, and Sarah Sun.