Wanda Montalvo: Preventing Infections in Community Health Centers, Latino Communities

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Salud Heroes
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Wanda Montalvo sat at her desk working on paperwork, she could hear nurses and physicians bustling about in the lobby.

It was the 1980s, and Wanda was proud to be the secretary for the medical director’s office at the local community health center in Brooklyn, New York.

Wanda saw her position as “paying it forward,” as she depended on community health centers growing up in a low-income and underinsured Latino household.

However, she couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more she could do to give back to her community.

After earning her Bachelor of Nursing degree, the first-generation college student went on to earn her master’s degree in nursing from Long Island University and her PhD in nursing science and health policy from Columbia University in New York.

Throughout her education and career, Wanda made a name for herself by tackling health inequities and diversity and inclusion issues , with most of her work focusing on community health centers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Wanda continued her important work with community health centers, but with an emphasized focus area: infection control.

Infection Control is Critical in Community Health Centers

Community health centers are non-profit organizations that provide primary healthcare to America’s underserved communities, including many Latinos. All patients, regardless of income or insurance status, can get quality healthcare at community health centers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, community health centers and their frontline healthcare workers were vital in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, including in vulnerable populations, such as Latinos.

Wanda Montalvo, PhD, RN, FAAN, as Senior Fellow for Public Health Integration and Innovation at the National Association of Community Health Centers, began fighting the spread of COVID-19 early in the pandemic by advocating for community health center staff to have necessary Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), such as N95 masks.

“Access to the right equipment was really, really critical,” Wanda explained. “We played an important role in getting PPE delivered to frontline healthcare workers in community health centers so they could protect themselves, patients, and colleagues from the virus.”

Wanda supported the dissemination of CDC guidelines and evidence-based information to frontline healthcare workers. This included Project Firstline infection control resources on proper hand-washing techniques, safe usage of multi-dose vaccine vials, and the importance of cleaning and disinfection.

Further trainings for frontline healthcare workers included counter-narratives as a strategy for promoting COVID-19 vaccination.

Wanda also helped frontline healthcare workers tackle general COVID-19 misinformation or lack of information among patients.

“It’s very difficult when people are not getting accurate information,” Wanda continued. “We trained frontline staff how to have counter narrative conversations based on what misinformation they heard from patients.”

The Challenge of Equitable Healthcare Access for Latinos

As a Latina, Wanda understands  the cultural challenges Latinos face when it comes to getting healthcare.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Latinos were especially vulnerable to misinformation or a lack of information due to language barriers.

“Depending on where they were in the country, information may not have been locally available to them in Spanish, like through Telemundo or a local radio station,” Wanda said. “In these cases, access to information was limited, so they would turn to Facebook or their family members who would recommend home remedies and other inaccurate ways of combating COVID-19.”

“As a Latina, I’m very thankful for the role that I play because I’m on the frontline working with our community health centers, getting accurate information in healthcare workers’ hands, and delivering that information and infection control services to the Latino community.”

Leaping Forward

Wanda continues to make an immeasurable difference for Latinos and other disadvantaged groups.

From humble beginnings, she has since published in numerous peer-reviewed publications and has received several national awards, including Nurse of the Year in 2019 by the New York Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

Wanda is a great role model for those in the Latino community interested in pursuing a career in nursing or other healthcare professions.

“I was raised by my grandmother. I lived on welfare and food stamps and Medicaid,” Wanda said. “There is a pathway where you want to go, but it may not be easy. Take the leap and the net will catch you. Sometimes you land on your feet, sometimes you land on your face, sometimes you land on your butt, but take the leap.”

Wanda has her sights set on continuing to help community health centers prevent and manage COVID-19 variants and other infectious diseases.

“Our staff reflect the diversity of communities, so they can translate various languages and be more aware of cultural differences,” Wanda said. “That’s what makes community health centers powerful resources for infection control in vulnerable populations.”

What Can You Do to Promote Infection Control in Your Healthcare Setting?

Access more information about infection prevention and control in healthcare by visiting resources from CDC Project Firstline.

Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is working with the National Hispanic Medical Association to bring Project Firstline infection control educational content to healthcare workers, so they are equipped with the knowledge they need to protect themselves, their facilities, and their patients (Latinos and all communities) from infectious disease threats in healthcare settings.

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Learn More about Project Firstline!

 Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America!, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and the CDC’s Project Firstline. To find resources training materials, and other tools to bolster knowledge and practice of infection control, visit Project Firstline and view Salud America!’s infection control content.

By The Numbers By The Numbers

10

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of clinical trial participants are Latinos

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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