The first gathering of what would become Illinois Unidos, a consortium dedicated to addressing the impact of COVID-19 in the Latino community, is still vivid in the mind of Marina Del Rios Rivera, MD, MSc. “It was a Saturday in April , and I remember how somber that meeting was when we recognized the magnitude of what was about to happen in our community,” she said.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 40 – No 06 – June 2021
An associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and an emergency medicine specialist at the university’s hospital, Dr. Del Rios Rivera was referring to not just the Chicago community that her hospital serves but also the disproportionately vulnerable Latino community in Illinois.
Born in Puerto Rico, the daughter of a father who worked a janitor and a mother whose education did not go beyond sixth grade, Dr. Del Rios Rivera acknowledges that as a physician, she has privilege—and she feels compelled to use it on behalf of those who do not. This has meant a decade of community service volunteer work in the Latino community for Dr. Del Rios Rivera—and in this instance, it felt especially important as Latino people in the United States are more likely to be infected with and die from COVID-19 than white people. Latino people also experience a disproportionate amount of COVID-related financial burdens, which may include work-hour reduction, unemployment, and inability to access government benefits due to citizenship status.
Illinois Unidos was born on that day last spring when a group of community leaders from around the state met to address these challenges. Dr. Del Rios Rivera became a founding member and is now chair of the health and policy committee. The organization has grown to about 100 members who actively participate in task forces that meet biweekly between their bigger plenary meetings. Thousands serve the group as affiliated members of independent community service organizations. These include the primarily Latino-serving federally qualified health centers located in areas that might otherwise be health care deserts as well as advocacy organizations like the Latino Policy Forum and the Puerto Rican Agenda. They also include representatives from academic health equity centers and the Great Cities Institute, which is part of University of Illinois at Chicago. And then there are members from work groups like Arise Chicago, which builds partnerships between faith communities and workers to fight workplace injustice through education, and Raise the Floor Alliance, which advocates for low-wage workers to achieve justice in Chicago. “Each of us have, in turn, another set of constituents that we respond to and advocate for,” she said.