“Don’t be afraid to reach out to your community for help. It is not about who can give the most vaccines. It is not a race. We are all in this together,” advises Ronda Arline, Director of Nursing at Albany Area Primary Health Care (AAPHC), which serves a rural, primarily African American community in South Georgia.
In South Georgia, working with other organizations results in more resources and a broader reach
The health center initially administered the vaccine in their clinics but quickly realized that they did not have space to manage their routine clinic care and administer the COVID-19 vaccine. Phoebe Putney Health System, the area’s leading hospital and health care system and longtime AAPHC partner, jumped in to help by donating a large space in a location that was easily accessible to the patient community. The space has become AAPHC’s central mass vaccination site where they are now regularly vaccinating hundreds of community members.
When additional vaccine doses are needed, AAPHC reaches out to Phoebe and local and surrounding county health departments for help with donated vaccines. Everyone responds and shares vaccine when they can.
“We are not afraid to get out there and make it known we are willing to do this and ask for help,” added Arline. Their outreach efforts have resulted in vaccinating 8,600 people with many more to be vaccinated in the weeks and months ahead.
Leveraging partnerships with trusted community leaders In Asheville
Working with community organizations that are trusted leaders is also invaluable partnership strategy that health centers are employing to support their mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts. They can help to reach deep into communities, particularly marginalized ones, to help build vaccine confidence because they understand the community concerns and hesitations and can talk and relate to them.
This is the approach that Appalachian Mountain Community Health Center (AMCHC) is taking to connect with underserved African Americans in Asheville, North Carolina. AMCHC is closely collaborating with Chosen, a local grassroots organization founded by an influential group of Black community leaders living in Asheville. Chosen is committed to proactively solving problems and closing gaps for those in marginalized communities, including the need to get people in this African American community vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We went boots to ground,” explains Reuben Pettiford, AMCHC’s CEO and an active member of Chosen. “We talked, we called… it wasn’t that people weren’t skeptical because some were, it was that they needed somebody they trusted just to talk to them. Once we talked to them, they were more than willing to sign up.”
In addition, Chosen members also volunteer at the vaccination clinics. Not only do they help with a clinic’s operations, but they also serve as a familiar and trusted source of support to community members.
Their efforts have been met with great success. For a vaccination clinic held in February, Chosen helped to quickly sign-up 300 African Americans with many more placed on a waiting list. This partnership model has worked so well that AMCHC is mirroring it within the local Latinx community to educate, build trust, and ultimately get these community members vaccinated.