Immokalee Technical College nursing students bridge language barriers at COVID-19 vaccination sites

Rachel Fradette
Naples Daily News

Behind a red bandana, Elias Chum Carrillo's grin could only be seen in his eyes. 

Chum Carrillo arrived at a rented storefront Thursday morning in Immokalee to receive his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. 

He is grateful, he said. His happiness stems from his ability to not only receive a vaccine but to do so in Immokalee, his home. 

“I feel good about it,” Chum Carrillo said in Spanish through a translator. 

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Isabel Franco,  a student at Immokalee Technical College helps Elias Chum Carrillo fill out paperwork at a Healthcare Network COVID-19 vaccination site in Immokalee on Thursday, March 11, 2021. She was helping him translate and register for the vaccine. Chum Carrillo was getting his second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Before heading inside for his second shot, Chum Carrillo was greeted by nursing student Isabel Franco from Immokalee Technical College.

Franco asked him questions about his health and took down his information while making conversation about his day. 

Chum Carrillo said he was happy to have someone translate for him and help read through his paperwork. The situation made him feel more comfortable, he said. 

Franco is one of 12 students who have assisted at vaccination sites in Immokalee. 

The Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, headquartered in Immokalee, asked Immokalee Technical College for help to provide translation services and help with registration and paperwork at their sites.

The technical college’s three-semester nursing program answered the call.

At a vaccination site hosted by Healthcare Network on March 11 about 100 people received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccination site provided through the Healthcare Network is located a few doors down from Winn-Dixie within a strip mall in Immokalee. 

Students help translate for Spanish and Haitian Creole speakers.

Healthcare Network partnered with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Department of Health to provide vaccination sites.

Bryan Arreguin Arreola, a student at Immokalee Technical College helps ,Jose Malagon,86, fill out paperwork at a Healthcare Network COVID-19 vaccination site in Immokalee on Thursday, March 11, 2021. On the right is his daughter-in law Elizabeth Malagon and Liliana Caligua, 5. Elizabeth Malagon was babysitting Caligua. Bryan Arreguin Arreola said "It has been a good experience to help people in need and pleasure to help parts of the community who canÕt understand English."

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Gabrielle O’Boyle, who does marketing and community relations for the network, said that as more doses are secured and guaranteed the network will continue outreach to get people to vaccination sites.

“It's really important that we take that extra step to reach out to them," O'Boyle said.

James Leavor, Immokalee Technical College’s nursing instructor, said his students are able to see that they are progressing in the classroom but also at community events.

“It's all just about constant communication, trying to help different people and, hopefully, the students can change their lives," Leavor said. "That's why I like doing this program." 

At one of the vaccination sites, Leavor said two of his former students inoculated patients inside while his current students signed up people outside. 

“We've helped so many people in this community," Leavor said. 

About 12 of his students in the licensed practical nurse, or LPN, program worked at a site this week. It was not the first vaccination site where students provided support, and Leavor said he hopes it won’t be the last. 

Leavor said these students were restricted to learning through simulation labs with mannequins due to COVID-19. Typically, they would be in clinicals on hospital floors.

“Even though they're newer students, it's still a good experience for them to learn about communication, patient documentation, allergies, health history, so that we can make sure that patients get the right care," Leavor said.

Another set of 12 students further along in the program are making their way back into hospitals for learning, Leavor said. 

Isabel Franco,  a student at Immokalee Technical College helps Elias Chum Carrillo fill out paperwork at a Healthcare Network COVID-19 vaccination site in Immokalee on Thursday, March 11, 2021. She was helping him translate and register for the vaccine. Chum Carrillo was getting his second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Early on in distribution, nursing student Elizabeth Beccera said it was hard to watch one of the sites in February be saturated by more people from outside town than Immokalee residents. 

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“The lines were so packed on both sides of the building just trying to get in, so it was different to see,” Beccera said. 

Beccera, 23, said the situation has improved. Her peers have kept busy translating for patients while Beccera, who only speaks English, disinfected stations and signed people up when possible. 

For Beccera, joining the LPN program came after several years working as a certified nursing assistant in long-term care. She worked with one patient during the past two-and-a-half years. 

Upon his death in January, Beccera said she launched herself back into school like he would have wanted.

“I did end up applying and then he passed, so it wasn't like I had to leave him because he left me,” Beccera said.

In a time of fear, nursing student Bryan Arreguin Arreola said vaccination sites are showing skeptics how many people are taking advantage and getting in line for a dose. 

Isabel Franco, right, a student at Immokalee Technical College stands by as Elias Chum Carrillo prepares to get COVID-19 vaccine at a Healthcare Network vaccination site in Immokalee on Thursday, March 11, 2021. She was helping him translate and register for the vaccine. Carrillo was getting his second dose of the Moderna vaccine. Giving the vaccine is Delia Bustamante of the Healthcare Network.

“Once one member of the family gets a COVID-19 vaccine, everybody gets it," Arreguin Arreola said.

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By spreading the word and sharing experiences, Arreguin Arreola said he hopes to see his community return to normalcy soon. Until then, he said he’s happy to be on site registering his neighbors.

“They recognize that we're from this town,” Arreguin Arreola said. 

As a single mom of two kids, nursing student Heiry Juarez Cano said it was hard to manage returning to school, working and taking care of them.

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“It’s challenging,” Juarez Cano said. “I work double shifts Saturday and Sunday. That way I can focus on school.”

The 25-year-old is a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home in LaBelle. 

Now enrolled in the program, Juarez Cano said she always wanted to expand her career in health care and continue to help people. The program has made her plan for the future, she said.

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As for the experience at vaccination clinics, Juarez Cano said Immokalee Technical College students are filling a need for those who speak languages other than English. 

“I’m glad that I can be here to help, especially translating,” Juarez Cano said. 

The nursing students’ presence makes it less stressful for patients, Juarez Cano said. 

“Sometimes they can't see, or they have difficulty writing. Some of them can't write or read. So it's nice that you're there to give them a hand and help them to make this process smoother,” Juarez Cano said.

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at rfradette@gannett.com.

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