Jeramey Jannene

Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers Draws Praise for Work Addressing COVID-19

Organization provided tests for over two-thirds of cases on south side. Officials say it is slowing spread.

By - Apr 25th, 2020 03:57 pm
COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days (left), heat map over life of outbreak (right). Images from Milwaukee County COVID-19 Dashboard.

COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days (left), heat map over life of outbreak (right). Images from Milwaukee County COVID-19 Dashboard.

City and county officials believe the work of a southside non-profit organization helped identify a surge of COVID-19 cases and slow its spread on the city’s dense south side.

On April 17th, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said that over the past week a fast-growing cluster of cases emerged on the south side, particularly in the 53215 ZIP code. Kowalik said the area had seen over 160 cases as of the 17th, a number that has grown to over 200 by Saturday morning.

In many cases it was Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers that collected specimens from patients to be tested. “I believe that the numbers are a little better than they would be if not for the presence of the Sixteenth Street Health Center,” said Mayor Tom Barrett in a press briefing on Wednesday. “My hat is off in a huge way to them. Their ties to that community are so strong and so deep that they’ve been able to focus.”

Over 65 percent of the 53215 ZIP code’s residents identify as Hispanic or Latinx and thirty percent of the area’s residents live in poverty.

The organization is headquartered at 1032 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. and has a number of satellite locations throughout the area, including the 53204 zip code (70 percent Hispanic or Latinx) and in Waukesha. While most of the COVID-19 cases are emerging in the 53215 ZIP Code, 53204 has over 50 cases. A single census tract in 53204 has 28 cases, the highest total for a single tract on the south side.

“We stepped in early with onset testing,” said Dr. Julie Schuller, the organization’s president and CEO on Wednesday. “Because of Sixteenth Street, we have reduced the number of cases on the south side.” The organization focuses on providing quality health care to underserved populations.

As of April 20th, the organization had collected test specimens from 1,013 people, with 244 positive cases. Schuller said that represented two-thirds of the positive cases in the organization’s service area. The organization serves over 43,000 people.

She said the support doesn’t stop at their doors. “We have been hosting some Facebook live sessions in Spanish with one of our doctors,” said Schuller. The organization has also placed signs around the area, in English and Spanish, about safe practices to prevent the spread of the disease. It has also texted all of its enrolled patients.

“We are proud to be a leader on the south side and in the Hispanic community in Milwaukee,” she said.

“We are lucky to have Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers in our community,” said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management. “There is no doubt that without their presence and without their and other federally qualified health centers’ community support, community engagement and community health promotion, this is a region of our county that would have more cases and have more deaths.”

Epidemiologists continue to study the outbreak in the community. Weston and Kowalik both said a combination of factors likely led to the outbreak, including the population being long-underserved by medical care.

“One of the significant components forget about is multi-generational living,” said Dr. Tito Izard, president and CEO of Milwaukee Health Services, during a media briefing Friday. He said the communities particularly impacted by the disease in Milwaukee, notably the black and Hispanic community, have higher rates of multiple generations living together, sometimes in crowded quarters, because of poverty. “I think that’s a very important component that needs to be considered and it is economically tied.”

Approximately 60,000 people live in the 53215 ZIP code according to census data. The area includes the city’s Silver CityBurnham ParkLayton ParkSouthgatePolonia and Morgandale neighborhoods. The ZIP code runs from S. 6th St. on the east to S. 43rd St. on the west. The southern border is W. Morgan Ave., with the northern border formed from W. Becher St. east of S. 27th St. and W. Canal St. west of S. 27th St. The 53204 ZIP Code, located northeast of 53215 includes the Walker’s Point neighborhood and Harbor District.

A new filter on the Milwaukee County COVID-19 dashboard allows the mapping of new cases in the past 14 days. The map, currently, highlights the outbreak on the south side as well as the comprehensive testing at the House of Correction in Franklin and a long-term care facility outbreak in West Allis.

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Categories: Health, How To Help

One thought on “Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers Draws Praise for Work Addressing COVID-19”

  1. D'nardo Colucci says:

    My wife is a doctor at 16th Street and I couldn’t be more proud of (and impressed by) the work she and her fellow doctors and nurses are doing there. Our city is lucky to have such a dedicated and brave group of professionals.


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