This year, we did not come together under one roof, welcome each other with a warm embrace, or swap stories during our midday breaks. For the first time, we hosted our 2021 Policy & Issues Forum virtually. Throughout the conference, industry experts from across the country spoke about critically important issues our health care systems face, including funding and resource needs, COVID-19 vaccination planning, and additional concerns regarding our communities’ health and well-being.
On the first day of the Policy and Issues Forum, four community health center leaders came together to provide further detail for the “Health Centers and Underserved Communities: Vaccinations From First Mile to Last Mile” session.
Captain Amy Parker Fiebelkorn, MSN, MPH, Brian Toomey, MSW, Shelley Spires, MSM, and Dr. Grace Wang, MD, MPH, reviewed the country’s current COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy, discussed practices healthcare leaders can implement to vaccinate those in high-risk communities and explored strategies for addressing vaccine hesitancy among patients. “During a pandemic, efficient, expeditious, and equitable distribution and administration of authorized vaccines is critical. And within national guidelines, state and local jurisdictions should have the flexibility to administer vaccines based on local epidemiology and demand,” said Amy Parker Fiebelkron, MSN, MPH, CDC.
During the session, Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health Services, Inc., also talked about resilience and how health centers can help their staff overcome the stress and trauma they may be experiencing during the pandemic. Even before COVID-19, many health care workers faced burnout, and this crisis presents them with even greater workplace hardships, further exacerbating their anxiety and stress levels. At the beginning of the pandemic, Toomey quickly worked with his teams to put new policies and procedures into place to ensure he had a safe work environment for his staff and patients.
Lastly, Grace Wang, a board-certified family physician at International Community Health Services, gave a powerful speech about vaccine hesitancy and the importance of building trust, empowering health care personnel, and engaging communities and individuals. While more people than ever are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, a significant portion of the US population is still in a “wait and see” category.
“Vaccine confidence is the trust that patients, parents, or providers have in recommended vaccines, providers who administer vaccines, and processes and policies that lead to vaccine development, licensure, manufacturing, and recommendations for use,” said Wang.
To help health centers combat vaccine hesitancy and empower their staff to communicate with their patients about the COVID-19 vaccine confidently, NACHC developed a Communications Toolkit. It includes everything health leaders and frontline workers need, including key messages about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, copy and paste social media posts, “I got vaccinated because…” selfie signs, and more. The social media messages have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Chinese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Haitian Creole, Somali, & Hmong.