Hialeah program aids women and children braving the COVID storm

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children in Hialeah had to limit its face-to-face consultations, but little has changed for its staff and clients.

The federal program aims to get low-income women and children access to health services and healthy foods but, with the pandemic, outreach methods have had to compensate for restrictions.

Almost a year after the pandemic started, this method has focused on serving clients quickly and dealing with roadblocks as they come.

Biron De Aza, 62, has worked for the program as a nutritionist for 15 years.

De Aza felt the transition to remote meetings firsthand when he was sent to work from home.

“Well, after March 2020, we started with teleworking, and we didn’t see patients here at the clinics,” he said. “We just tried to do everything by phone.”

Nutritionists help their clients, including pregnant women, mothers, and children of all ages in low-income communities, obtain healthy foods and education on healthy eating habits as well as personalized counseling.

Teleworking, or remote work, has been the alternative to the usual consultations for the program’s participants.

Despite losing the face-to-face interaction, De Aza has noted a positive change with his consultations.

“We have more time to talk to them,” said De Aza.

But getting used to this new normal and being able to see the positive side took time and effort.

Degnis Mendez, 44, who is also a nutritionist for the program, saw the teleworking protocol be implemented from the start.

“At the beginning, it was a little difficult due to all the restrictions related to the epidemic and also a lack of equipment and technology,” said Mendez.

Even with the program being able to telework fully, there is also always staff on-site for clients that are not as tech-savvy or have to visit the facility for anything from picking up welfare cards to getting physical examinations.

“Most of the services are by phone and via email,” he said. “Some services are in person in the clinic following CDC and Health Department guidelines.”

The program runs out of a Citrus Health Network clinic in Hialeah and is the only one in the city.

Elizabet Del Rey, 52, has been an eligibility interviewer for the program for two decades.

Her position in the program has her speaking to applicants daily to determine if they qualify for the program’s benefits and services.

Del Rey alternates between working from home and on site per safety regulations established by Citrus Health Network.

But even without a consistent office and face-to-face interactions down to a minimum, applicants haven’t decreased.

“We’ve actually had more people,” she said. “We have more clientele, because there’s more people without work.”

Kelsia Guevara is a journalism student at Florida International University. She is a Cuban-born Miami native raised in the city for nearly two decades.