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Tucked into a light industrial park off Aberdeen Road in Hampton, Va., the Hispanic Resource Center of Coastal Virginia hosted a food pantry on Friday, May 22, while Sentara Healthcare offered free coronavirus testing to a community that is often not being reached through other screening events. A double line of cars with parents and kids aboard wound around the building. Volunteers questioned drivers in Spanish about whether they needed food, coronavirus testing or both.

Sentara partners with community organizations to offer free coronavirus testing to underserved minority populations

Screenings across Virginia and in northeast North Carolina provide access to testing

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Tucked into a light industrial park off Aberdeen Road in Hampton, Va., the Hispanic Resource Center of Coastal Virginia hosted a food pantry on Friday, May 22, while Sentara Healthcare offered free coronavirus testing to a community that is often not being reached through other screening events. A double line of cars with parents and kids aboard wound around the building. Volunteers questioned drivers in Spanish about whether they needed food, coronavirus testing or both.

Sentara Medical Group nurses screened occupants and performed nasal swabs on those who met the criteria. Hispanic Resource Center Founder Liz Torres waved drivers through the center’s long, narrow warehouse/garage, where more volunteers loaded paper grocery bags of fresh produce, packages of frozen fish from the Food Bank and prepared meals from Polly’s Soul Food in Hampton.

“It’s amazing how many people want to help,” said Dana Beckton, chief diversity officer for Sentara healthcare as she watched the line of vehicles advance. “All it took was a phone call to the right person with the right connections and in a couple of weeks we have an event.”

Sentara is partnering with local health departments, Urban League and NAACP chapters, community organizations and faith groups to provide free coronavirus testing in minority communities Sentara serves across Virginia and in northeast North Carolina. These may include African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods, LGBTQ persons, homeless persons and others without ready access to testing.

“Transportation issues and sometimes the language barrier may be among the reasons minority communities aren’t being adequately tested,” said Iris Lundy, director of Health Equity for Sentara. “We are building trust and getting the word out through these organizations that it is safe to come out and be tested.”

Since April, Sentara has participated in screening events in 12 cities and counties served by our hospitals, including Prince William County, Woodbridge and Manassas in northern Virginia, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg in the Blue Ridge region, Halifax and Mecklenberg Counties and the City of Danville in Southside Virginia, and the City of Hampton.  More than 1,400 residents have been tested and 160 tests have come back positive, prompting needed isolation and contact tracing.

“Sentara is focused on recognizing and addressing health disparities in the communities we serve,” says Jordan Asher, MD, chief physician executive with Sentara Healthcare. “Minorities are being affected by COVID-19 at a higher rate than the population at large, and we want to reach those residents and help them obtain the services they need where they live.”

Sentara and its community partners plan to continue this targeted screening and testing process until satisfied that underserved populations are being reached and provided with needed services.