By Kylie Rau


Fear, terror, anxiety, stress and community pride: Catalina Sol, the executive director of La Clínica del Pueblo, used these words to describe what staff members have felt during the coronavirus pandemic. La Clínica, a nonprofit community health center, aims to increase health equity for Latino immigrants, according to its website.


Before the pandemic, La Clínica served around 1,000 patients on a regular basis each year at its Hyattsville location near the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station, and a total of around 5,000 patients on a regular basis each year in the Washington D.C. area. 


According to Sol, the pandemic has been hard on Latino immigrants because many lack access to public benefits, have essential jobs or work in service industries. 


La Clínica had 280 clients test positive for COVID-19. “We have had, unfortunately, also a few patient deaths within the pandemic. One of our patients was a resident of Prince George’s County who passed away, along with his son. It was a very tragic experience for their family and for the community,” said Sol.


Sol explained that La Clínica’s mental health team has been extremely busy meeting with patients by phone or video due to the overwhelming mental health stressors that the community has faced, especially for families with children at home. “It is very, very difficult. Especially in a community that also has a high mental health burden from previous exposure to traumatic events — violence, separation from family — it’s a difficult time for our community,” she said. Therapists have reported to Sol that many patients have been participating in telehealth appointments from their cars to have privacy. 


Although the community is under great stress, Sol noted that there has been an unexpected, positive outcome in terms of mental health. “Being able to connect with the providers from home has been a very good option [for our clients],” she said. Implementing virtual mental health services and support has reduced barriers for people who are not comfortable going into the clinic. 


La Clínica has adapted to the pandemic by moving many of their programs online. In March, the majority of the staff began to work remotely and offer telehealth services. 


The Hyattsville clinic closed for almost a month but is now open. In addition to offering telehealth appointments, it serves patients onsite once a week and offers coronavirus testing on a different day each week. “Although our entire workforce is essential, we have been rotating our staff through onsite work, telehealth work or COVID testing,” said Sol. 


The staff is focused on community safety and is following all of the guidelines put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The requirements for social distance in the waiting room means that we can only have two or three people in the waiting room, as opposed to the 10 or 15 that we had before,” Sol explained. 


Chronic diseases that La Clínica typically treats include hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Through it’s mental health program, the clinic also treats depression, anxiety and alcohol addiction. In addition, La Clínica has a community health action department, through which it offers wellness education, with an emphasis on women’s health, LGBTQ health and sexual health. 


Sol is hopeful that the community will recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. “I like to hope for the best and plan for the worst. I don’t think a global pandemic was in my mindset of worst case scenarios,” she said. “We are trying to all hold ourselves together in collective strength. It’s not possible for everybody to be strong every single minute of the day, but we can share that burden among each other.”


Kylie Rau is a summer intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times.