Recognizing Essential Health Workers in the Second District

Watts Health Center Lab Lead Veronica Hernandez gears up in personal protective equipment to safely test patients for COVID-19.

Veronica Hernandez: Watts Health Center

In last week’s installment of the Second District essential health workers series, the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recognized Rashod Conkrite, who works at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center in Willowbrook. This week’s feature is dedicated to Veronica Hernandez, the Lab Lead who is working for Watts Healthcare at the Watts Health Center in Compton.

Spotlight on Watts Health Center: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Watts Healthcare quickly shifted operations to accommodate the testing needs of their communities in the Second District. Recently, Watts Healthcare partnered with the LA County Department of Public Health to expand testing at its various locations, including at its flagship site at Watts Health Center in Compton.

In addition to the non-profit community-based organization making free daily testing available, Watts Health Center continues to serve patients’ primary care and chronic illness needs while reducing their patients’ risk of exposure to COVID-19. The clinic’s expertise in implementing successful approaches to reducing health disparities supports the Second District’s efforts to eliminate the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

The Watts Health Center is also known for maintaining one of the most diversified, culturally appropriate, and quality-focused workforces. One staff member in particular, Watts Health Center Lab Lead Veronica Hernandez, valiantly stepped forward to protect those who needed her the most.

Meet Veronica Hernandez:

Veronica grew up in South Central Los Angeles and has always been intrigued by the healthcare field as a child.

When Veronica is not outside testing patients for COVID-19, she is in the lab supervising and supporting her staff.

She has since spent over 30 years working in the field and contributing directly to her community. “I would like to appreciate Watts Healthcare for giving me the opportunity to be part of this historical moment in our lives to serve,” said Veronica about working in healthcare during a pandemic.

As Lab Lead, Veronica ensures that her staff has everything they need to perform their duties in a safe, successful, and professional manner, and that each patient is cared for with diligence and respect. Now, she has also assumed the role of administering COVID-19 swab tests to patients.

Veronica’s Perspective:

Bringing comfort and a smile to every patient’s face is what drives Veronica to continue this work, even when facing a perilous pandemic.

“My role is to instruct the patients about how to not spread the virus, especially for those who test positive,” said Veronica. It is also important to Veronica to educate other Spanish speakers, especially with COVID-19’s disproportionate effects on the Latinx community. “I speak Spanish, so I have to ensure that Spanish-speaking patients understand the severity of what is going on in the world right now and I demonstrate how they can take care of themselves step-by-step.”

A moment that will stay with Veronica was seeing an entire family, including a newborn, test positive for COVID-19. Unfortunately, the elderly family member succumbed to the virus, leaving the rest of the family heartbroken. As painful as these moments are, it underscores the importance of the testing Veronica conducts in efforts to keep families and communities safe. It also shows that people of all ages, even children and infants, are susceptible to COVID-19 and can spread it to more vulnerable family members.

A Typical Day for Veronica:

Before the onset of the pandemic, her duties ranged from supervising staff, payroll, and coordinating supplies and equipment. COVID-19 has dramatically impacted not only Watts Health Center operations, but also Veronica’s daily responsibilities. In addition to her largely administrative responsibilities, Veronica chose to join the front lines to conduct COVID-19 testing on-site.

Watts Health Center staff have stepped up to ensure the Watts community and beyond have access to free testing.

“The level of stress in these trying times has every one of the patients and staff on high alert,” said Veronica. “There’s no way to train for this; however, our training and compassion will see my staff and me through this pandemic.”

Due to Veronica’s willingness to respond to her call to action, her work is helping to provide care, answers, and possible solutions to patients’ health problems so that the process of healing can occur during this time of great risk and uncertainty.