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A Profile In Care: Dr. Erin Tsuchimoto, Highland Hospital Pediatrics Clinic

Photo Caption; East Bay Express

In late July, Dr. Erin Tsuchimoto, a pediatrician at Highland Hospital Pediatrics Clinic, and a recent recipient of cloth facemasks from It Takes A Village spoke about the need for facemasks at the clinic and her concerns working with our area’s most vulnerable populations.

Erin is among a core of physicians and staff at Highland Hospital Pediatric Clinic who adopt a whole-family approach to child wellness. Their goal is to provide for the health of the child by also understanding, as far as possible, the stressors on the child’s family. Of mounting concern is the number of families in the East Bay who are at or below the poverty line and also face language barriers when seeking healthcare. “Here in Oakland, many of the families we see are Mam speakers, who are not bilingual Spanish or English speakers.” The Mam, an indigenous people from the western highlands of Guatemala, speak a dialect of Mayan. According to a June 17, 2020 article in the East Bay Times, many Mam speakers live in Oakland's Fruitvale District, an area with one of the city’s highest Covid-19 rates per 100,000 people.

“The families live together in close quarters,” she explained, and these families are especially vulnerable to novel coronavirus exposure. “The fathers are often day workers, getting exposed in cars of the people who hire them, while riding to jobs, and at job sites. They cannot quarantine, and if they do, they have no financial resources. Many families do not have disinfectants or facemasks.” Erin and her colleagues worry that beyond not having supplies, many of their families are not getting adequate information about the disease because of the language barrier. “We had a Mum language translator until recently.”

While addressing the specific needs of the Mum speaking community, the staff of the Pediatric Clinic also are navigating general pediatric wellness exams during a pandemic. “We see newborns and wellness vaccinations in the morning and exposure cases in the afternoon,” Erin said. Because transmission to babies is possible, “mothers who have been exposed need to wear masks while nursing,”

To help support its young patients and their families, the Clinic runs a food bank every Friday. They distribute diapers and food, and lately have been distributing disinfectant and facemasks.

Linh Becker, a Village volunteer and friend, introduced Erin to Shelly Wong, founder of It Takes a Village. Alameda Health Systems, which runs Highland Hospital, among other safety net hospitals and clinics, is the largest recipient of ITAV PPE. While usually donating to the central offices, Shelly arranged for masks to be delivered directly into Erin’s hands. “Pediatrics tends to get forgotten when PPE donations are distributed in the system,” Erin explained. Village masks now are being given to Clinic families, children and adults.

"The families are so appreciative to get homemade masks. It makes them feel cared for."

“The families are so appreciative to get homemade masks. It makes them feel cared for,”

Erin said. The children, parents and all members of their household are given the reusable cloth masks. “It’s been so nice to hand out masks for their whole family while reminding them to abide by the COVID precautions and to stay vigilant during this time as numbers are rising. Much appreciation from the whole pediatric staff at Highland!!!”

ITAV plans to expand pediatric mask production so that health care clinics, like the one at Highland, can distribute washable cloth masks to the children and families who need them.

“With new information being released about the importance of masks for children, we have decided to make a run of 3,000 children's sized masks to donate to all of our hospitals and clinics"

Shelly Wong said. “$1 funds a mask and allows us to purchase new fabric for these masks.”

For more information about the Mam-speakers in Oakland:

Lost in Translation: Indigenous-language speakers challenged during pandemic

East Bay Express

Photo Caption: Dr. Erin Tsuchimoto, Highland Hospital and ITAV Volunteer Jaedon W.

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