By Jessica Easthope
SOMOS has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic since the beginning, treating the patients most in need.
“Our community doctors are invested in the community. They look like the community they serve, they have the same language, the same culture,” said Liz Webb, the Vice President of Human Resoures at SOMOS.
Now, it’s at the forefront of testing and vaccinating. So far, SOMOS has administered more than 500,000 COVID-19 tests across 60 testing sites and is now running 60 pop up vaccination sites and six mass sites including Yankee Stadium, all in an effort to oust the deadly virus that took 16 of its own.
“The group of physicians that I’m talking about they don’t shy away from what’s hard or what’s difficult or what’s scary. To the other extreme they ran into that battle, there was no stopping them then,” said Liz.
From March until June of last year, SOMOS lost 16 doctors and healthcare workers, more than any other provider in New York City, their ages ranged from 38 to 70.
Dr. Ramon Tallaj, the chairman of the board, remembers his friend Dr. Ydelfonso Decoo. He said many of the doctors who passed were pediatricians, seeing families with new babies who caught the virus in the hospital where they delivered.
“Some of them are pediatricians and they died because they continued working. One of my board members and friends, Dr. Decoo, he was a family doctor and pediatrician by trade,” Dr. Tallaj said.
Dr. Tallaj says the doctors in SOMOS’ network were most at risk because they were most present, relentlessly battling the virus.
“Some people said to us, ‘Are you afraid?’ Of course we were afraid. It was killing people and there was no one on the streets, it was only us. But we were more afraid not to save lives,” he said.
SOMOS means “we are” in Spanish. Dr. Tallaj says it’s the perfect way to describe the community care they give and the faith that connects them. Every single day, Dr. Tallaj logs onto a prayer call that’s kept him going.
“It was a big line. We had three different countries joining us, at one point there were 580 people praying and 60 of them were doctors, and then there were nurses. It was amazing,” said Dr. Tallaj, “gave us a lot of support and strength.”
Dr. Tallaj says continuing to lead and treat with faith is the best way he knows how to pay tribute to the colleagues and friends he lost.