JDC Client Spotlight: NICOS Chinese Health Coalition


JDC Client Spotlight: NICOS Chinese Health Coalition

The Justice & Diversity Center is highlighting a client from our Community Organization Representation Project (CORP), the non-profit NICOS Chinese Health Coalition.

To learn about NICOS and the support they have received through CORP, we reached out to Michael S. Liao, NICOS’ Director of Programs. Liao first became involved with NICOS as an intern 17 years ago, while they were completing a masters in social work and organization. Liao initially wanted to work with the agency because of its coalition format and its unique approach. “There’s a lot of challenges and barriers to access healthcare and to navigate the complex healthcare system, especially for Chinese immigrants,” he explained, “and today we have a membership of over 30 health and human service organizations, majority of whom do provide some kind of direct services.” These services include medical health care such as behavioral and mental, addiction treatment, youth services, and educational services.

NICOS serves as a “clearing house of information, bringing cutting edge information about health and policy issues, and research,” and works to grapple with issues that their direct service partners may be unable to address. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, NICOS used their platform to amplify community concerns that Asian Americans were overrepresented in COVID related deaths, and worked to gather data to get a bigger picture of the pandemic and advocate for resources and policies at the city level. NICOS’ work was used to respond to COVID hotspots within the San Francisco Asian American community, providing in-language rapid responses to some of the SRO buildings, and working with people from the impacted neighborhoods who understood the culture and were trusted, resulting in timely COVID mitigation.  NICOS continues to push for data disaggregation, and continues to amplify the emerging needs of the community, a task they have pursued since their creation in 1985.

NICOS has been a consistent client of CORP over the years. Attorneys have worked with NICOS to answer questions on employment laws relating to wage and internships, and helped review their employee handbook to confirm compliance with local ordinances. More recently, CORP has been able to provide assistance with applying for H-1B visas for their bilingual health educators, and the arduous process of sponsoring green cards.

Liao says that the help NICOS has received has been critical for their ability to serve the community. He explained, “NICOS really relies on having fully bilingual folks who are literate in a language other than English to do our work. Without some of that legal assistance we wouldn’t have been able to retain and attract and recruit the labor force that we need to do our work.” The assistance they have received has helped NICOS hire staff with specific backgrounds in social work and psychology, making their collaboration with CORP invaluable.

Knowing that there is a local resource for nonprofits can also help with peace of mind. Like other non-profits, NICOS has one or two employees in charge of personnel management and keeping up with employment laws can be overwhelming.  Being able to reach out and find an attorney to help explain complicated processes can make a difference. Mr. Liao concluded by emphasizing that firms and attorneys who take on pro bono cases should not underestimate their significance. “It really does make an impact for smaller organizations, especially like ours. It kind of has that ripple effect, of how we’re able to then amplify our work and sustain the important work that we do in the community.”

To learn more about CORP and the services they provide or to volunteer, please visit their page or email them at Corp@sfbar.org . If you would like to get connected to NICOS, please call them at 415-788-6426 or email them at info@nicoschc.org.