Immigration Forward – Episode 5: The Rise of the Latino Advisory Council with Serena Collado Transcript

Episode 5: The Rise of the Latino Advisory Council With Serena Collado

Transcript: William Menard, Serena Collado

Welcome to Norris speaks Immigration Forward, a limited podcast series delving into the latest immigration topics and issues. I’m your host, William Menard. My guest today is Serena Collado. Ms. Collado is the Director of Community Health at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset, New Jersey, and chair of the hospital’s Latino Advisory Council. Ms. Collado. Thank you very much for joining me today.

Well, thank you for having me, William. I appreciate it.

Let’s just start with the basics here. So what is the Latino Advisory Council and what community does it serve?

So our Latino Advisory Council is a group of leaders from our Hispanic community that really look at meeting the needs of our Hispanic community in Somerset County. This actually evolved out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here at the hospital, we noticed a significantly disproportionate number of our Hispanic community members being admitted with COVID-19. So, our team set out to actually decrease that number of COVID 19 by educating our Hispanic community, but by doing so, we started working with all these different Hispanic community leaders and found out through them that aside from COVID, there was much more need and within this community in terms of education, in terms of resources. So, for the last, almost two years now, we have been working to educate our Hispanic community and provide educational webinars and programs in Spanish to improve health and wellness. And then also provide them with various services that they need and are unable to access.

With respect to COVID 19 in particular, because as you’re saying, the council arose out of this pandemic, what were some of the issues and, kind of difficulties facing the immigrant communities in your area in particular. What was different about that than, say, the difficulties that faced everyone?

Well, within our Hispanic community, you know, obviously first, we had communication barriers, you know, with our Hispanic community. A lot of families, maybe a five-to-seven-member family, are living in a two-bedroom apartment. So, it’s often difficult for them to isolate, and they are really dependent upon those in the family who go out to work, to help support the family. So with that, you always had individuals going out in the community and then would come back. And if one individual in that family got COVID, they lacked the resources such as masks and, you know, hand sanitizer, soaps, things like that, to really protect themselves. So, we found that, you know, by educating our community and providing certain resources, we actually helped to curtail the number of COVID-19 positives, and we actually decreased it by 85% in Bound Brook alone. So those efforts were really collaborative with all the different organizations within the county and really working with those community leaders, because they were local trusted resources who could really assist and, you know, had the trust of the community to say hey, the hospital is here to kind of help you and provide resources. And then through the Latino Advisory Council, we also had other organizations providing services, be it mental health services, or whatever was needed at the time.

So, the Advisory Council arose out of COVID 19, but you kind of, especially the end of your response there, started to talk about other things that are critical in the Latino community. And that kind of brings up a couple of issues for me. So first of all, has this branched out into helping with other health issues and have you moved into kind of more preventative care versus emergency kind of treatment care. You know, obviously it’s one thing, you know, it’s important to provide care for people who are sick, immediate kind of care, but it’s another to provide that preventative care, which is more of a long-term solution. So how are you working with that?

So to answer your first part of your question, yes, we did actually branch out into other things, other health issues. We also saw food insecurity, transportation issues, you know, again, education on other health topics. Mental health was a big one within our Hispanic community. We also educated on heart health, you know, stroke, nutrition, diabetes is very prevalent among our Hispanic communities. So that was very important to also educate about that. From the Latino Advisory Council, we started because of the pandemic doing monthly webinars on various topics. We worked with local faith-based organization leaders whose, you know, parish was predominantly Hispanic to really help promote these programs and services. For the second part of your question, I think you had asked about what types of services. Correct me if I’m wrong.

 Well, yeah. How are you moving into more preventative care?

So, yes. So I think a lot of this is all preventative. Cause when you educate about these issues, you’re educating how to prevent them, right? When you’re talking about, well, what are the risk factors? What are the causes? You know, and what are prevention strategies? We’re hoping by educating our Hispanic community about these topics, all the issues, right? — diabetes, heart health, mental health — that we can prevent them from really having to have a greater issue down the road and then needing treatment or services and having to come to the medical center. We’re happy to help them if they need it, but by doing so, you have to build the trust with the community. And so hopefully by doing those preventative services and offering screenings, because we did flu inoculations in Bound Brook and you know,  we did the COVID vaccinations here, and again, going out and providing different services that, you know, we were able to then build that rapport and educate and offer those preventative services to keep them well.

That’s the critical thing here is, I think, a lot of what gets focused on in immigration is the kind of big legal issues, you know, when there’s a major court case or whatever the event, political issue, but the day-to-day issues that confront everybody else isn’t really talked about a lot with respect to immigration, you know, how do immigrants get proper healthcare,  and those types of things. So I think this is something definitely really important to talk about. Do you feel, you know, you mentioned that you’ve been working with faith-based organizations, places that people in the community trust.


Do you think that that has helped to build a trust between you directly and people in that community that they would be able to go to you? And not through the organization?

Yes. I think that’s essential. Working with local trusted resources is essential to outreach and building relationships with a community that has historically had much distrust for healthcare, right? Let’s say their pastor says, you know, Hey, we’re gonna have some screenings, Robert Wood Johnson, Somerset is coming out and they’re gonna do screenings and they’re gonna give you, take your blood pressure. They’ll do a free blood glucose screen. Let you know, you know how to take care of yourself. It’s okay. You can trust them. You know, they’re more likely to show up rather than us just saying, Hey, come to the hospital,  we’ll take care of you, you know? That makes a big difference. And, you know, we did see that. Like when COVID did hit, when we said, Hey, we wanna come out and distribute masks, hand sanitizers, and soaps. It was those leaders that told the people, Hey, we’re gonna be in Bound Brook at Salvation Army at the time. And Robert Wood Johnson is gonna be distributing masks, hand sanitizers, and soap. Please stop by. They’re helping us to protect ourselves. Lines went down the street and around the corner, okay. We could not have done that without the support of local trusted resources. So, it is imperative. And especially for our immigrants who are new to this country and really don’t know, right? Our country, our systems, our hospitals, they have built a rapport and build a trust with a certain community leader who then says, Hey, it’s okay. You can come. That opens up that door to then be able to help them. So, we couldn’t have done it without ’em otherwise.

And do you, have you seen an increase in the number of people who are willing to come in and actually come into the hospital for, you know, it’s one thing to, to provide protective equipment and, and that type of stuff, which was enormous during the pandemic, you know, the masks and everything preventing the spread of it. but you know, either treatment for COVID or just like general health screenings and things like that. Have you seen an improvement in people being willing to take that step and come in?

Well, I can definitely tell you we’re very busy, so much that from the Latino Advisory Council, we actually hired a Hispanic Navigator. So the Hispanic Navigator will actually work with our Hispanic community. If they need services, he will actually help set up appointments, go with them to their appointments, translate if needed, basically help take care of their needs. If it’s something they need outside of the hospital, he’ll provide them with, you know, those community resources. And then, you know, navigate them over to the to those organizations. He is very busy alone. Just on the inpatient side. We don’t even have, at this point, an outpatient Hispanic program navigator. He really has his plate full. So it does help. And we do see that those numbers are climbing.

Despite all the kind of outreach that you’re doing, and, you know, you’re working hard to kind of build up a relationship with the community, I think there’s going to always be people who are reluctant because of their immigration status, whether they fear interacting with kind of anybody in a position of authority or they fear that any of their information will be forwarded to a law enforcement or a government official, which might put them in jeopardy. How does the hospital, like, deal with those kinds of concerns from particularly undocumented individuals?

 I think with the, with the hospital, one of the things we recognize is that we can’t expect people to come to us. We have to go to the people. And that was, you know, as I mentioned earlier, when we went out with COVID. But even when we do programs,  like we have our El Poder Sobre La Diabetes program that is a diabetes prevention outreach program to our Hispanic community. it’s taught in Spanish. We have those programs in churches, you know, in towns where there’s a high number of our Hispanic community, and at local trusted resources, right? You know, not only churches but schools, but places where the Hispanic community will congregate, and they feel safe. Again, by partnering with those organizations, we recognize that again, there’s more likely that those individuals that have fear and hesitation because of their immigration status may participate rather than coming to an unknown facility and especially, you know, a facility that, you know, — again, we see, you know, if they come here, they might hesitate in getting care because they can’t afford it, right? Or they don’t have the insurance, you know. So it’s going to those individuals and also telling them that look, in the state of New Jersey, if they enter our emergency department, they are seen regardless of their ability to pay. All we care about is their health. And that’s what we focus on. We don’t focus on their immigration status.

Running up to the end here, I just kind of had one more question. I wanted to give you a little bit of a forum to talk about this. So what are some of the things maybe coming up that the advisory council, or that the community health is doing, where they’ll be reaching out to the Latino community or providing services or anything else, you know, for the rest of the year or anything.

So we’re always doing stuff for our Hispanic community. We’ve been actually, through our so Lu, but we’ve actually been working and collaborating with the Somerset Patriots, through their Copa de la Diversion programming to actually raise awareness about the Hispanic culture. So we’re out there. We educate about health and about different countries and the different cultures. So we’ve done Cuba and Spain and Mexico. So every time that’s different. So that’s one thing we’re doing. Um, we’re offering a program in Spanish for mental health youth training. That’s gonna be coming up in the fall. Also gonna be doing some programming with diabetes and then with breast health as well. We have a program San OS. So, and again,  we add things as needs come up, but with the Latino Advisory Council, we typically have participated in, with the downtown Somerville Alliance every year during national Hispanic heritage month. And we have tables, and we have our salute. The Latino Advisory Council comes out and again, educate the Hispanic community about the various resources that are available to them. And of course, then we give ’em some nice goodies and, you know, giveaways that they can take home.

Sounds great. So I think we’ll end it there. This has been Norris speaks, Immigration Forward, a limited podcast series delving into the latest immigration topics and issues. Once again, my guest today has been Serena Collado Director of Community Health at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset, New Jersey, and full leader of the hospital’s Latino advisory council. I wanna thank Serena and you, the listener, for being a part of the conversation. Be sure to tune in next time for a brand-new episode. And if you’d like to reach out to me directly, please email me @ If you’d like to learn more about our work, feel free to visit our website @ Thank you for listening. And if you enjoyed the program, we would appreciate it if you could leave us a five-star review on your favorite podcasting platform. We hope you can join us again soon.

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