Health Center News, Uncategorized

Planning and Partnerships for COVID-19 Vaccination: One Community Health

Photo: Jason Bradley with colleagues at a vaccination event. Credit: One Community Health

The current pandemic underscores the truth that the health of one is connected with the health of all. That message is inherent at One Community Health in Hood River, Oregon. Dedicated to health and social justice, it serves a diverse local population, including migrant farmworkers, Native Americans, orchard owners, and others who call this beautiful Western region home.

Former Air Force medic assumes site director role during pandemic

One of the newest leaders at One Community is by no means the least experienced. Jason Bradley, site director at the Hood River location, joined the health center after a 23-year career as an Air Force medic. In that capacity, he traveled widely and worked in regions that required ingenuity, trust, partnership, and clear communication. Frequent changes were common; Jason learned to be flexible as well as proficient in his job. As site director, Jason applies those skills to his new challenge of joining forces to combat COVID-19.

While many may have been intimidated at the prospect of beginning a leadership role in the middle of a pandemic, Jason saw it as a great opportunity to partner with his new community. Arriving in October 2020, he spent his first three weeks getting to know area leaders and local concerns. He invited health department staff in several counties to biweekly calls that would assist both One Community and the public health teams to understand the current situation in COVID-19 spread, containment, and vaccine readiness.

Tackling bureaucratic barriers to vaccinate Native communitites

The timing of this new bilateral relationship turned out to be ideal. Vaccines were just becoming approved for emergency use and every potential vaccine provider was urgently needed. No one organization could fully serve the whole population, with some bureaucratic barriers putting particular populations at special risk. For instance, while the Indian Health Service had vaccines for tribal groups associated with local reservations, it did not allow supply to those Native Americans in fishing communities along the Columbia River. By meeting with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, One Community was able to incorporate those tribal members in need.

Through early and consistent collaborative planning with local partners, One Community has given over 18,000 vaccines to date. These include pop-up vaccine events at concerts in the park, county fair events with health departments, outreach immunization clinics in multiple Native American villages, two visits to Cascade Locks—a tiny remote community in Hood River—and even a brewery pop-up clinic. The brewery offered each vaccinated person a $30 gift card, drawing in some of the more hesitant folks in the area.

More than half of people getting vaccinated identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

One Community and the health departments were not able to jointly give vaccines due to liability issues on the health department end. But the coordination of care meant that no vaccine was wasted and constant improvement in immunization rates occurred without any lapse due to supply and demand. As many as 300 people a day received vaccines at the Hood River clinic site, a ten-fold increase from previous experiences with flu vaccine efforts.

Quick adaptation and creative use of space helped with vaccine administration

Jason’s Air Force experience helped him mobilize and adapt the workforce to meet the immediate need. At the Hood River site, they allowed both walk-in and scheduled vaccine patients. When space got tight, a conference room was transformed into an immunization room. It was set up in an assembly line format, with stations for registration, immunization, follow-up and scheduling of second appointments. When the center had both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines on hand, they created two streams of patient flow to keep those brands separate while safely administering a high volume of vaccines.

They are continuing to offer COVID-19 vaccines, though the demand has diminished. Vaccine hesitancy and the spread of misinformation is a challenge, but Jason says they repeatedly offer the community honest messaging that is transparent and credible.

Focusing on equitable vaccine distribution

Over half of the recipients of One Community’s vaccine delivery identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. This is a tremendous feat given the historical disparity in care serving these communities. Jason attributes this success to the fundamental mission of community health centers—serving the local community, with an emphasis on those most in need. If given the resources, Jason asserts that community health centers can meet every need that comes their way.

Flu vaccine season will soon be upon us. One Community continues its biweekly calls with area health leaders, and plans to coordinate events for flu, much like what they have done for COVID-19. They will continue all COVID-19 initiatives as well, not letting up until everyone eligible for immunization is completely vaccinated.

About the author: Jennie McLaurin, MD, is NACHC’s Senior Fellow for Public Health Integration and Innovation in the Clinical Affairs Division.

Read more blogs about how health centers are responding to COVID-19.