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Fostering Health Equity

Feb 17, 2021 | Beth Hess

Disasters often exacerbate existing health inequities, as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic. Health inequities don’t just denote differences in health outcomes, but that those differences are unjust. According to the Brookings Institution, COVID-19 death rates among Black and Hispanic/Latinx people are much higher than for white people across all age categories. Though the data remains incomplete, these inequalities also exist among American Indian and Alaska Native populations.

For the COVID-19 response, health equity includes identifying barriers, like health care access and transportation, that might prevent someone from getting a COVID-19 test or vaccination. As the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) network gears up to offer vaccination point of dispensing (POD) sites throughout the community, units should be considering whether services are being provided equitably across the jurisdictions they serve. The following includes some examples of how units are responding to inequities during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Arlington County MRC – COVID-19 Pop-Up Testing Sites

Arlington County MRC volunteers in Virginia are involved in every aspect of COVID response including doing contact tracing and manning daily testing sites, weekly vaccination PODS, and pop-up testing sites. Volunteers provide both clinical and general support.

The unit is providing pop-up testing in identified areas as part of a Health Equity Program, which is a partnership between Arlington County Government, Arlington Public Schools, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. This program allows the unit to have testing sites in designated zip codes where an increase in positive cases is seen. Even as many units move on to offer COVID-19 vaccinations, it is important to maintain adequate testing.

“Our residents most at risk for COVID-19 exposure need this further increase in testing access to identify cases and their close contacts,” said Dr. Reuben Varghese, Public Health Division Director. “We’re all better off when everyone in our community can get the resources they need to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy.”

The pop-up sites provide a designated number of tests (typically between 300 and 500) in one day via drive-thru and walk up (weather permitting). Depending on size, each pop-up deploys 15 to 20 volunteers. MRC volunteers provide flow control, greeting, registration, and translation services.

The county’s emergency operations center works directly with locations to establish the pop-up in areas like church and apartment building parking lots. The county looks for sites in designated zip codes that are accessible and close to well trafficked areas. The pop-ups have been offered at a variety of times including 1:00 to 7:00 pm on weekdays, and mornings on weekdays and Saturdays.

MRC of Dutchess County – COVID-19 Mobile Vaccination for People with Disabilities

The MRC of Dutchess County in New York supported the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health to administer vaccines to 60 residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Using a mobile pop-up site at a local community partner agency, MRC volunteers helped to provide vaccinations as part of the county’s 1a vaccinations.

Florida Keys MRC – Primary Care

The Florida Keys MRC serves 120 linear miles from Key Largo to Key West, Florida. Access to care is considered a frequent, predominant issue and the region is considered a medically underserved area. To help address this, the Florida Keys MRC supports primary care clinics in all its public schools in addition to supporting a dental program for second and seventh grade students.

In the primary care clinics, which provide such services as school physicals, support to those with chronic illness, and immunizations, Junior MRC volunteers rotate through the sites and MRC volunteers provide coverage with full-time providers are out of the office.

Through its dental program, MRC dentists help to provide exams to all second and seventh grade students and sealants when needed and approved by parents. In years past, this service has been provided in the fall and spring. The unit is currently gearing up for a spring session which will include extra PPE and utilizing volunteers who have predominantly received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition to these ongoing programs, the MRC has been heavily involved in COVID-19 response, supporting community testing since March and vaccinations beginning in January. This includes a new initiative to provide 3,000 rapid COVID-19 tests in the community, including those where access to care is an issue. In the first month of the program, about 1,000 tests were administered in a variety of locations including hotels, parks, local gyms, and high schools.

Unit Leader Keith Harris cites having really good community partners as a key to programmatic success.

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