Sofía Ladner
Alumni | 3/14/2024

MCPHS Alum Drives Change: Research Unveils COVID-19 Impact on Latinx Community in Boston

By Emily Halnon

Sofía Ladner obtained her Master of Public Health degree in 2019 and currently serves as a researcher dedicated to enhancing healthcare services for immigrant communities.

Sofía Ladner
Sofía Ladner obtained her Master of Public Health degree in 2019 and currently serves as a researcher dedicated to enhancing healthcare services for immigrant communities.

Since she earned a Master of Public Health degree, Sofía Ladner has been paving the way for more equitable healthcare.

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) alum Sofía Ladner grew up in a family from Argentina and vividly recalls interpreting medical information for her parents as a child. She said children often bridged the gap caused by limited resources available to immigrant families when they interacted with doctors and other providers. Even as a youngster, Ladner noticed the disparities, and every step of her healthcare career has since been defined by her culture.

"I want to focus on helping the community that I grew up in and am a part of now," said Ladner, who earned a Master of Public Health degree in 2019. After graduation, Ladner started working as a research associate at the Institute for Community Health (ICH) in Malden, Mass. This nonprofit organization aims to improve community health and health equity. "I wanted to get my MPH to pursue research and other projects that address the needs I see in my own community."

One of those needs was the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the coronavirus spread through the Boston area in 2020, Ladner said Latinx patients were three times more likely than the general population to be hospitalized with infections. That fact became the basis for a research study, "Contributing Factors to Delays in COVID-19-Related Hospitalization Among Latinx and Spanish-Speaking Patients," in which Ladner was the lead author among six colleagues from the Institute for Community Health and other institutions. The study was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine last October.

The researchers aimed to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of Latinx and Spanish-speaking patients hospitalized for COVID-19. As soon as they started conducting interviews, Ladner said it was evident that the experience of these patients was even more severe than the data suggested.

"A lot of the people we talked to had experienced very real trauma while hospitalized, which was exacerbated by cultural factors," Ladner said.

She said that many prefer to receive at-home care from their families and were not accustomed to the isolation and unfamiliarity of hospital settings, leading to delays in seeking medical care. She recounted an interview with a patient who said they would rather "die at home" than return to the hospital.

"Our findings highlighted the need for more culturally informed policies and practices," she said. "When working with diverse populations, treatment and care must be modified for different people."

Ladner's connection to the immigrant community has provided a unique perspective in her research. When people in the COVID-19 study talked about living in multigenerational, triple-decker homes, she knew exactly how that felt, having been raised in that same environment.

"I resonate with many of the things that come up in interviews and also a lot of the issues that we see in the immigrant community right now," she said.

Now, with a role that allows her to make meaningful improvements to local healthcare through research and community engagement, Ladner is determined to continue addressing issues affecting the immigrant community. She is also involved in projects at the Leah Zallman Center for Immigrant Health Research, a center within the Institute for Community Health that works on actionable research to advance immigrant wellbeing.

“We try to mirror our work around whatever's happening on the ground,” she said. “We think about what specific research projects are needed and find ways to promote policies that address our findings.”

Her focus extends to language justice in healthcare, the intersection of economic well-being and healthcare, and advocating for programs that address cultural needs, such as increased access to home care.

And, while it’s becoming more common to have access to interpreters, Ladner said social disparities nevertheless persist. The memory of the little girl translating medical information for her parents remains a driving force in her dedication to community health.

"I want to apply my skillset in community health and research while also drawing from my personal relationships and observations so that I can do work that will positively impact the community," Ladner said.