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.
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.
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.