How a Baltimore Health Corps Worker Helped Fight COVID-19 in Her Community

Posted October 3, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Zoraida looks confidently into the camera. She has medium-length dark hair and wears a blue top.

When the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic began, Zorai­da Diaz knew she want­ed to help her com­mu­ni­ty make it through the chal­lenge. At the same time, the Colom­bia-born moth­er of two adult chil­dren was uncer­tain of her work prospects after grad­u­ate school. Nev­er­the­less, she says, I saw how the Latin com­mu­ni­ty was being affect­ed, espe­cial­ly our undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants. I thought, I can do something.’”

After Diaz com­plet­ed a free online Cours­era con­tact trac­ing course devel­oped by the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health, she learned about the Bal­ti­more Health Corps pilot. In Octo­ber 2020, she accept­ed a tem­po­rary posi­tion with the Bal­ti­more City Health Depart­ment (BCHD) as one of the pilot program’s com­mu­ni­ty health work­ers. In doing so, she helped ful­fill one of the program’s goals: cre­at­ing job oppor­tu­ni­ties that could build future career skills for Bal­ti­more res­i­dents who were out of work or underemployed.

Build­ing the Bal­ti­more Health Corps

Fund­ed by the City of Bal­ti­more, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, the Rock­e­feller Foun­da­tion and oth­er part­ners, the Bal­ti­more Health Corps deployed com­mu­ni­ty health work­ers to track COVID-19 infec­tions. It con­nect­ed those exposed to the virus to test­ing, health care and finan­cial and hous­ing assistance.

Baltimore Health Corps

The Bal­ti­more Health Corps pro­gram also pro­vid­ed city res­i­dents who were out of work with tem­po­rary jobs through two employ­ers: the BCHD and Health­Care Access Mary­land. It endeav­ored to cre­ate a work­force that reflect­ed Baltimore’s demo­graph­ics — 62% Black and 53% female. It suc­ceed­ed, with the program’s staff being 51% Black and 62% female. These res­i­dents who were out of work or under­em­ployed due to the pan­dem­ic were now able to earn a steady income.

Although these posi­tions were only intend­ed to last eight months, 126 staff mem­bers, out of the ini­tial­ly hired 335 city res­i­dents, remain employed by the BCHD or Health­Care Access Mary­land. One hun­dred and nine­teen staff mem­bers have since moved on to new opportunities.

The Bal­ti­more Health Corps was not only an oppor­tu­ni­ty to help com­mu­ni­ties hit hard­est by the pan­dem­ic but also to put res­i­dents of those com­mu­ni­ties on a career path where they could gain valu­able job skills and expe­ri­ences,” says Sara Coop­er, a senior asso­ciate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Bal­ti­more Civic Site. Even after the pilot pro­gram end­ed, com­mu­ni­ty health work­ers like Zorai­da con­tin­ue to give back to Bal­ti­more City.”

Where Is Zorai­da Now?

Diaz was pro­mot­ed to a super­vi­sor role with the BCHD in July 2021. As she worked with the team, Diaz says she saw a tremen­dous out­pour­ing of empa­thy and a shar­ing of knowl­edge that helped peo­ple nav­i­gate through ill­ness and trau­ma. It was inspirational.”

Dur­ing her time with the Bal­ti­more Health Corps, Diaz took advan­tage of the work­force assis­tance the pro­gram offered its staff — includ­ing legal ser­vices and the abil­i­ty to explore pos­si­ble career paths. I was not only able to improve my cred­it by fol­low­ing the advice of a finan­cial coun­selor but a career nav­i­ga­tor helped me revise my resume and empow­ered me as I pre­pared to find a new job.”

In June 2022, Diaz’s posi­tion with the BCHD came to an end. She has since tak­en on a new role as a court inter­preter with the Mary­land Judi­cia­ry, a part-time job that allows her to con­tin­ue to help the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty. The Bal­ti­more Health Corps showed me that, although many mem­bers of the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty do not have access to the qual­i­ty health care they deserve, we can only move for­ward by work­ing together.”

Learn More About the Bal­ti­more Health Corps

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