Coming Together to Combat COVID: Latino Connection, Health Insurers and Department of Health Tackling Healthcare Inequality with CATE

By George Fernandez









There’s the saying that “If you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.” Unfortunately as it relates to healthcare equality, especially in light of COVID-19, there has been far too much talk and far too little walk. The suffering of our most vulnerable and underserved communities has risen to a whole new level. For those who already had an uphill battle against food disparity, poor nutrition, high risk for chronic illness, lack of education, and lack of adequate healthcare, they are now facing COVID-19 with very limited resources to protect themselves and the ones they love.


There are substantial and extensive facts that back up the claim that Black and other non-white communities have faced significantly worse economic and health effects related to the coronavirus than white communities. USA Today states that data on the race of COVID-19 victims shows that non-white populations have died at disproportionately higher rates than white populations in nearly every state. Additionally, counties with the highest COVID-19 mortality rates consistently have disproportionately larger non-white populations.


It’s time for something to change, and that time is now. In order to solve healthcare inequality and reach the vulnerable and underserved communities, we can’t expect them to know where to look for help. Help needs to come to them. This belief has been a pillar to Latino Connection’s mission since its inception back in 2014.


In response to COVID-19, Latino Connection was pleased to recently announce a partnership with community organizations across Pennsylvania to meet people at local corner stores and bodegas to hand out essential items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer when often these were unattainable anywhere else.  A New York Times article emphasized that now more than ever, these corner stores are the lifeblood of the communities they serve.


Now that toilet paper is making its way back on shelves, a more looming crisis is emerging. How can our underserved communities receive proper COVID-19 testing and education? And how can that solution meet people where they are? This movement needs to have wheels, literally. The Latino Connection has again forged partnerships, this time with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Highmark Blue Shield and Independence Blue Cross to breathe life into CATE. CATE is a COVID-19 mobile response unit standing for “Community-Accessible Testing & Education” that is equipped to conduct testing for the virus on-site while also educating the public on how to stay healthy and safe. The mobile response unit’s tagline is “Sharing knowledge to erase fear,” which it intends to do through widespread community healthcare and health education.


CATE is making dozens of stops across the Commonwealth to help serve minority populations in the state’s most vulnerable counties – a first step toward what could hopefully become a widespread movement of repurposing existing mobile units to function as COVID-19 testing and educational resource centers. But here’s the most important part – it’s completely free and does not require health insurance.


Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine touted CATE in an official press release announcing our public-private partnership, saying “This partnership will help ensure Pennsylvanians, no matter where they live or what language they speak, will have access to COVID-19 testing.  It also furthers the Wolf Administration’s commitment to creating pathways to health equity for anyone living in the commonwealth.”


Our valued partners at Highmark Health and Independence Blue Cross also expressed gratefulness for being able to participate in this community-focused cause during COVID. “We at Highmark at delighted to be teaming up … in supporting this important service to help fight COVID 19. During this time of uncertainty, we feel this is an excellent use of our resources,” Daniel Onorato, executive vice president, chief corporate affairs officer for Highmark Health said. “We ultimately hope to touch thousands of residents through this effort.” And Independence Blue Cross Foundation President Lorina Marshall-Blake added, “Education and testing are essential to ending the devastation of this pandemic in our communities, particularly among minorities and communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.”


CATE is a single step toward closing the divides that exist in underserved communities, including healthcare, education, and technology – but it’s a least a step in the direction of meeting people where they are and making healthcare accessible and affordable. And if it saves even just one life, then it has succeeded immeasurably.


That’s why we can’t just stop here. I’m happy to share that the tour has been expanded for another two months to reach even more Pennsylvania locations in October and November. Additionally, Latino Connection, along with Gateway Health, has launched another mobile unit in western PA to also make tour stops across Pennsylvania in October and November. This initiative will focus on addressing social determinants of health and providing care to seniors.


I am so grateful to our public and private sector partners for sharing my vision and passion for putting words into action and best intentions into movement so that we can provide healthcare and health education to those who need it the most. We can say we’re all in this together, but until our actions reflect our words, those who have been impacted the most by COVID-19 will continue to live at a disadvantage.


Those interested in visiting CATE can find the tour stop schedule listed on the website at or on Facebook at Services are available on a first come, first serve basis. Social distancing and masking guidelines will be followed at all times.


George Fernandez is founder and CEO of the Latino Connection.      


Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.