Doctor combats COVID-19 misinformation with classes for Spanish-speaking patients: 'Talk to them in a language they understand'

Gisselle Bances
·3 mins read

Dr. Jorge Ramallo has been treating his patients during this pandemic through a combination of virtual and in-person visits at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in Milwaukee, Wis.

“The patients that I see are over 90 percent Latinx,” he tells Yahoo Life. “Being able to talk to them in a language they understand, but also being able to relate to their culture … is one of the most rewarding things of my job.”

Ramallo, who is an internist and pediatrician, is doing his part to break the language barrier and build confianza (trust) by speaking to his patients in a language they feel the most comfortable: Spanish.

Dr. Jorge Ramallo treats his patient at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in Milwaukee. (Photo: Sixteenth Street Community Health Center)
Dr. Jorge Ramallo treats his patient at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in Milwaukee. (Photo: Sixteenth Street Community Health Center)

The Latinx community has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. Latinx-owned businesses have suffered major economic setbacks, immigrant communities are not getting the testing and treatment they need and essential workers are among the most vulnerable.

People who identify as Latinx are more than four times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to white people, according to the CDC. In Wisconsin, there have been 19,939 positive COVID-19 cases among people who identify as Latino, according to Tuesday data from the state’s Department of Health Services, making up 16.6 percent of cases in the state.

“A lot of our patients work essential jobs ...They’re working in construction, they’re working in the food industry, they’re working in restaurants,” Dr. Ramallo explains. “For them, doing teleworking is not an option. Unfortunately, the financial security of their families is of the utmost importance for them.”

Witnessing the death toll from the pandemic has been devastating for him and his team at the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center. They realized quickly there wasn’t enough information on COVID-19 in Spanish — and took action.

Dr. Ramallo hosts a Spanish Facebook Live Series called “Pregunte al doctor” (Ask the doctor). He hopes to dispel online misconceptions about bogus remedies and theories and create a safe space for patients to ask questions.

Dr. Ramallo hosts a Facebook live series in Spanish to inform the Latinx community about COVID-19. (Photo: Sixteenth Street Community Health Center)
Dr. Ramallo hosts a Facebook live series in Spanish to inform the Latinx community about COVID-19. (Photo: Sixteenth Street Community Health Center)

“Having that extra source of information from a physician that they know, that is part of their community, that speaks their language, I think has made a big difference,” he explains.

Ramallo knows all too well what some of his non-English speaking patients are going through. He was born in Bolivia and moved to Virginia with his family when he was a teenager. “I found myself starting high school ... not speaking any English and like many of my patients that I see here in the clinic, I was [thrust] into English as a second language classes and just expected to catch up at some point,” he says.

A passion for science and medicine led him to the Yale School of Medicine, which he graduated in 2009 and began his journey as a doctor.

He encourages the community to push fear aside and take the first step toward a healthy future. “You have to make health a priority for you now,” he explains. “You can’t wait until later.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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