Volunteers from UC Davis and Sacramento State reach out to underserved Hmong population with free flu vaccines and groceries
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When the pandemic forced UC Davis School of Medicine to curtail in-person visits at its student-run free clinics earlier this year, Christi Candido grew worried. She feared that vulnerable populations would lose access to health care.
On Sunday, however, the aspiring physician and clinic volunteer felt relieved.
Candido was one of about 25 students affiliated with Hmong Lifting Underserved Barriers (HLUB), which hosted a free drive-through flu shot clinic in the parking lot of a community center in Del Paso Heights. Dozens of cars, including minivans filled with entire families, lined up at the makeshift clinic outside Hope Center in a disadvantaged section of Sacramento County to receive the influenza vaccine.
“I feel really amazing,” Candido said as cars drove up. “This has really uplifted us.”
The Hmong have the second-lowest rate of health insurance coverage in comparison to other Southeast Asian minority groups, so it’s critical they receive the flu vaccine, Candido said.
Each flu season in the U.S. claims tens of thousands of lives, and prevention through the vaccine is more important than ever as the novel coronavirus continues to devastate the country and the world. Medical experts fear that people with influenza and COVID-19 will fill hospital beds around the U.S. this winter, putting a strain on the health-care system.
In addition, many Hmong patients are reluctant to visit hospitals and clinics because they would rather rely on traditional Chinese medicine and shamans for their health needs, said Christian Bohringer, the medical director of HLUB and professor of clinical anesthesiology at UC Davis Health.
The student volunteers are all too familiar with the cultural nuances, which helps explain why so many signed up to spend part of their weekend in service to the community.
“It’s really important because a lot of these people are not very educated about health resources in this part of Sacramento County, so it’s really important that we give them the right information about getting their flu shot and making sure they’re protected for the flu season,” Candido said.
Hmong Lifting Underserved Barriers is one of more than a dozen student-run clinics affiliated with UC Davis School of Medicine. If you are a licensed clinician who would like to help oversee care for underserved patients and mentor the next generation of health professionals, please contact Amy Jouan at email@example.com
The clinic took months of planning by HLUB, one of the newer student-run clinics which is connected to the larger Paul Hom Asian Clinic. Students from three campuses helped out: UC Davis, the School of Medicine and Sacramento State.
“I think it’s important to be here today because we’re able to help out our Hmong community,” said Mai See Yang, who served as an interpreter, using her language skills in Hmong, Spanish and English. Yang, a UC Davis junior who is majoring in nutrition, and fellow student Zoua Vang easily stood out among the volunteers because they wore colorful Hmong traditional outfits.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. motorists rolled up to the U-shaped parking lot lined with pop-up tents. They encountered a well-organized and efficient operation, a testament to students who decided that patients would need to schedule appointments.
Drivers and passengers underwent basic health screening from undergraduates, then received their injections from medical students.
The drive-through was a rewarding experience for Joyee Tseng, a second-year medical student who misses volunteering at the Paul Hom clinic on Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento, which also houses the HLUB clinic. Both are operating under limited capacity and staffing, due to COVID-19 prevention precautions.
“It’s really nice to be able to have patient interaction,” Tseng said. “It’s been a little bit hard during COVID.”
Another group of volunteers loaded cars with grocery bags containing fruits, vegetables, face masks, hand sanitizer, first-aid kits and health information pamphlets.
Students worked hard to secure the giveaways, which were donated by local stores and clinics, said Mara Cao, a fourth-year medical student. Other students persuaded Sacramento County Department of Health Services to provide the 80 doses of the vaccine.
Another crew of students posted fliers at supermarkets, blasted information on social media and connected with Hmong Youth and Parents United, a local organization, to help promote the clinic.
“It is a great source of pride for me that the students are leading this effort for their community,” said Bohringer, the HLUB medical director.
“They are the bridge between the older patients in their community and western medicine,” he said. “Without their involvement we would not be able to gain the trust of the older Hmong population and they would not be able to benefit from western medical science.”