September 7, 2020: Wai Ying Wong, age 94, a resident at ICHS Legacy House, meets her great-grandson, Carson Yu, age 6 weeks. This is the first time he and his parents Michelle Faylona and Braniff Yu have been able to visit her since the pandemic hit in March 2020. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

This piece is part of COVID-19 in 2020: A look back on health equity & community resilience in Chinatown-International District. The project was led by Seattle photo-journalist Karen Ducey and former ICHS marketing and communications manager Angela Toda in partnership with International Examiner. The project was funded by Historic South Downtown, King County 4Culture, and Society of Professional Journalists.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to adapt their lifestyles to a new kind of normal in 2020, there was no real playbook for a fluid situation that changed by the day. ICHS stretched staff and resources to buckle down on our mission — ensuring all people, regardless of immigration status or income, had access to high-quality, affordable health care.

During the pandemic, people had to adapt during stay-at-home orders and change routines. From schools to commerce, from closer family units to others becoming farther away, curbing the spread of the disease meant isolation, keeping a social distance, and reinventing the way do things and interact with one another.

November 12, 2020: Residents at ICHS Legacy House, an assisted living facility in the CID, get their hair cut by ICHS employees. Pictured is Xiaoli Wen, case manager for adult day services (hold-ing broom) and Min Huang, adult day services administrator (with spray bottle).
Raymond He, resident service supervisor, said: “Today we’re providing haircuts for our residents because, since we’re going back to phase one in Washington state for our long-term care facilities, a lot of the families can’t come in to provide the service. I think this came out of necessity. A lot of the residents, I mean, it’s been a while since they’ve even left the facility and their hair has gotten so long. Family members that have been watching them over video calls or maybe come by to drop off something, they’ve noticed hair has been getting too long for them.”
“Residents have come in to complain,” He continued. “I think this is kind of like an important matter for them, especially the guys. A lot of the guys say, ‘My hair shouldn’t be long,’ culturally, you know? So they really wanted to get their hair cut. I have no hair cutting experience. So I’m following their leads. … They just want it shorter, just easier to manage. A lot of residents are really grateful for it. I think just having a haircut just brings them back to before COVID times, and that’s something they really appreciate.”
(Photo by Karen Ducey)

ICHS leadership and staff worked with community partners to find new ways to reach the old, young, and everyone in between with telehealth, home visits, pop up health events, and drive thru services. Together, we sought to lessen the harmful impact of poverty, homelessness, substance use, mental illness, lack of nutrition, and unemployment.

COVID-19 laid bare long-standing inequities within an underfunded health care system that was fast outmatched by the pace of infection. Against this backdrop, ICHS struggled to stay solvent against rising costs, uncertain federal funding, and steep declines in patients seeking preventative care. Our staff and providers have met with constant uncertainty and stress.

May 29, 2020: Wong Wai, 94, a resident at ICHS Legacy House, speaks on a Zoom meeting with her children and grandchildren in Seattle. Originally from mainland China, Wai moved to Hong Kong about 16 years ago and from there, emigrated to the United States in 2015. Legacy House staff set up a laptop so residents could communicate with their loved ones. (Photo by Karen Ducey)

As unemployment rises and more people lose their employee-sponsored health insurance, ICHS must remain open to provide care for all. Our patients continue to be disproportionately impacted by chronic disease; while the need for mental health care and treatment of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse threatens to boil over into a second wave of crisis.

COVID-19 played into the same systemic inequities that first redlined people of color into the Chinatown-International District, deprived them of medical care, and denied them equal opportunity. While a vaccine puts an end to the pandemic in sight, it doesn’t address these long-standing fissures or the inadequacies of our current health care system.

Instead, it lays bare our need to ensure the vaccine reaches those who need it most and to continue our fight to shore up funding for community health centers.

These challenges aside, our doors will stay open to whoever needs us. ICHS will always be here. We are a voice for health care as a human right – and the promise of a more vibrant, just, and sustainable society.

May 29, 2020: Tan Zhong Lian, an 86-year-old Chinese immigrant from Guangdong province, practices tai chi on a balcony at ICHS Legacy House. Lian normally would do her daily exercise at a nearby park but since the governor’s stay-at-home order, she has to practice on the balcony of the assisted living facility in the CID. “In the beginning, it was so difficult,” Wong said. “Just start to quarantine, so difficult. Didn’t know what to do. So boring, cannot go out. Now I got used to it because I find a place I can do exercise.” (Photo by Karen Ducey)

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