How a Petaluma group is aiding vulnerable groups self-isolate across the county
As testing and contact-tracing ramps up across Sonoma County, hundreds of residents are receiving slips of paper ordering them to self-isolate. But for many people, including those in economically vulnerable situations, that’s much easier said than done.
For a group of eight living in a one-bathroom house, or an inter-generational family sharing common spaces, or a single working parent, the directive to quarantine presents a spectrum of different obstacles.
Observing this rising need in Petaluma and across the county, Petaluma People Services Center teamed up with the nascent nonprofit IsoCare to educate and assist the region’s neediest to self-isolate safely and connect with a range of social services.
“It’s a huge ask of people, and we wanted to help the community through this because it’s also a social justice issue,” said IsoCare’s co-founder Margaret Howe. “Resources are more easily available to some people than others, like getting deliveries, childcare or time off from work, so we’re there to help them self-isolate and stay healthy.”
With Petaluma People Services as its host organization, the nearly two-month-old IsoCare has served more than 530 individuals and families in Sonoma County. Community health care providers in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Windsor and West County connect with IsoCare’s core group of six volunteers to refer those who either test positive or are otherwise exposed to the virus and ordered to quarantine.
Of the more than 500 cases, Howe said roughly 400 are referrals from one of their earliest healthcare partners, Petaluma Health Center, which operates two locations in Rohnert Park and Petaluma.
Within about 24 hours, those referred to IsoCare receive a call from nursing students and doctors volunteering their time, asking about their ability to quarantine, the details of their living situation, and informing them what they should and should not do.
“Our primary goal is to help people understand what self-isolation is,” Howe said. “But then, life comes in. They’ll ask about how to get food, how to help with loss of income. That’s where Petaluma People Services Center steps up.”
Executive Director of Petaluma People Services Center Elece Hempel said while some contacted families and individuals have resources and a support system, many do not.
Over the last several weeks, her organization has raised $3,000 to help meet these needs. With no administration costs and an army of volunteers fueling IsoCare, Hempel said the real expense is in providing commonly-requested items such as masks, cleaning supplies, food and diapers.
“If someone is diagnosed or exposed, that individual is sent home with instructions that are fairly vague, and honestly there’s been some people who say they don’t believe there’s even a virus,” Hempel said. “So the best way to solve that is to encourage people to stay at home, and we bring them what they need.”
While the Petaluma nonprofit boasts an impressive roster of programs and resources, the small team is unable to serve the specific needs of residents scattered throughout the county. To expand its reach beyond Petaluma and the immediate surrounding areas, her organization is working closely with community partners embedded around the county, especially in rural areas.
One of those partners is La Luz Center in Sonoma, an advocate for Latino and immigrant community members with a 35-year history serving the Sonoma Valley. Executive Director Juan Hernandez said 95% of those his organization serves are Spanish speakers, providing a crucial connection to a large swath of the community that often wrestles with lack of information and various language barriers.