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How did health clinics adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic? Researchers from UNT Dallas want to know

The University of Texas at Dallas is a public university located in Dallas.
Emily Nava
The University of Texas at Dallas is a public university located in Dallas.

Researchers from the University of North Texas at Dallas are gathering more than 20 community partners over the next few months to discuss what they learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project, called the Community Care Active Engagement Project (CCAEP), is funded by a grant from Texas Health Resources, a North Texas nonprofit health system.

Constance Lacy, the dean of the school of Behavioral Health and Human Services at UNT Dallas, is heading up the project.

“We’re already starting to get some really rich information,” Lacy said. “We want to hear from the janitors, we want to hear from the nurses, we want to hear from the administrators, everyone, because they all played a different role.”

She said she’s interested in learning how health providers --like clinics, school districts and local nonprofits -- started and continue to use new ways to reach patients since 2020.

“As we look back, what did we learn and how does it inform what we do moving forward?” she said. “We now have a generation of individuals who experienced the pandemic. It would be interesting to see what rises up in the next 10, 25 years as a result of COVID.”

One of the partners involved in the project is Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, a West Dallas nonprofit that’s been around since the 1940’s. The organization helps people access food, health care, mental health resources and job training.

Ivan Esquivel is the clinic director. He said he’ll never forget the day the city of Dallas shut things down in March of 2020.

“We serve about 150 people in person” three times a week for food services, Esquivel said. “We had to completely pivot to a drive-through model overnight. We didn’t know what we were doing. It was such a confusing time.”

He said a lot of things have changed for the organization since then—the staff has expanded from about 10 people to more than 20 people, and they now provide both in-person and telehealth options for patients.

“COVID-19 severely impacted the community that we serve,” Esquivel said. “We saw a lot of grief, a lot of loss.”

Esquivel said the clinic has continued to increase the amount of patients since 2020—from around 500 in 2019 to close to 2,000 last year. He attributed this to the continued “mental health fallout” from the pandemic.

“The unknowns, the stress, just completely dug up other issues of trauma they maybe had buried for years,” Esquivel said. “That’s something we learned a lot about during 2020. These people were struggling mentally, severely.”

He said telehealth options also made these mental health visits more accessible by breaking down the stigma of coming into the clinic for services.

“Meeting them at home, meeting them on their phone, opened up opportunities for them to be vulnerable with us,” he said.

Esquivel says nonprofits like his should embrace change to continue serving people in the community. He'll share his experiences with others in upcoming focus groups hosted by Lacy and other researchers, who are set to publish their findings this fall.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.