In this article:
Community Health Investment received a grant of more than $870,000 for COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
We met with Jim Tehan, regional director, to discuss how the funds will be used.
The grant is about utilizing community health workers to provide outreach and education in hard-hit areas.
We discuss Community Health Investment’s strategies, partners, challenges and rewards when it comes to the shots.
[4 MIN READ]
This past May, the LA County Department of Public Health announced that Community Health Investment, Providence Southern California, would receive a grant amounting to more than $870,000. The grant will fund the initiative, “CHW (Community Health Worker) Outreach and Vaccine Distribution Support Services.”
We met with Jim Tehan, regional director of Community Health Investment, to discuss the grant. He shared their vision for how the funds will be used to continue the work that began with the first grant awarded in late 2020 through March of this year.
What is the grant all about?
Jim Tehan (JT): It’s part of a national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-funded initiative that the LA County Department of Public Health is leading in LA county. We plan to build upon the first grant we received, which preceded vaccine availability: To target the same seven South Bay and San Fernando Valley communities where COVID-19 vaccination rates are low.
Our project began in late May and continues through the end of 2021. One of the things we’re gratified to know from the county is that our performance on the last COVID outreach and education project (in 2020) carried a lot of weight in their decision-making about which agencies to select across LA County.
That’s great! So, how will the grant help with the low vaccine rates you mentioned?
JT: Essentially, our initial purpose was to utilize community health workers (CHWs) to work on outreach and education in under-resourced communities. Then when the vaccine came along, we started to organize vaccine clinics. The CHWs provided the administrative support to run the clinics.
Most of the grant goes toward CHW salary, but we’ve also done quite a bit with targeted social media. We’ve found if we pay for our advertising, we get a much better response. And so we'll do Facebook or Instagram ads that reach our target communities. That’s been very successful.
Our efforts will be about trying to influence people to get shots. We’ve found that the two types of folks that people generally respond to about getting shots are either physicians or people they know and trust.
Our efforts will be about trying to influence people to get shots. We’ve found that the two types of folks that people generally respond to about getting shots are either physicians or people they know and trust. And so, if family members have gotten shots, it can be a very successful way to get other family members to get their shots.
Where are the communities you’re reaching out to?
JT: We’ve always focused on those communities that are hardest hit within our service area, and where we also happen to have the infrastructure to provide programs. So, it's a good fit. There’s an area around the Los Angeles Harbor known as Wilmington, and then another area in the Northeast San Fernando Valley called Pacoima. Both of those areas had very, very high COVID case rates. That’s also where we happen to have wellness centers.
One of our target audiences will be schools because the age group between 12 and 18 is eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. My guess is that Moderna may be next, but once we get some experience with Pfizer, it probably won't matter to us which one it is. One of the school districts we work with is Los Angeles Unified, and we've already got events scheduled for them.
What are some other strategies you plan to use?
JT: The strategies are changing. We’ve found that a clinic later in the day will draw in folks who are working. So, we've shifted to later clinics. And we're doing some Saturday clinics as well.
I think that our ideal goal will probably be a hundred shots a day.
The challenge for us is to be as creative as possible to find different groups of people. And I think that our ideal goal will probably be a hundred shots a day. Based on what the partners we're working with are saying, we'd really like to try to do a hundred.
Who are some of the partners you’re working with?
JT: Our partners range from schools, senior centers and churches. We work a lot with Federally Qualified Health Centers, which also strive to help underserved areas. And we're just starting to enter into an agreement with community colleges and are working through the details of that.
We do a lot of work with homeless organizations and homeless service providers and have gone into some shelters and done shots there. It's really about trying to find as many different and new locations as we can. We’re working with the political leaders, who have shared incentives to help bring in people for shots. We go from churches to cities to mosques — we'll pretty much go anywhere. At the same time, we've got our fixed wellness centers and people can always go there.
What are some other ways the community health workers are vital?
JT: With the first grant, we worked with the county on various methods of outreach. Originally, the county would go block by block, looking at where the rates of COVID were still highest. And then they would give us specific blocks to focus on so we could go door-to-door and give them information about vaccines and where to get a shot.
It’s very grassroots-oriented. We’re assigned six specific communities under this new grant. And then we’ll get this block-by-block information as to where people are not vaccinated.
It’s very grassroots-oriented. We’re assigned six specific communities under this new grant. And then we’ll get this block-by-block information as to where people are not vaccinated. Our game plan is to have 18 community health workers on this project. And the good thing for us is, we're one of 13 grantees in the county that are doing this work.
One of our greatest strengths is that we have a deep bench of caregivers, so we've been able to keep our folks when there was an interruption of funds; many others didn't have the funds to keep going. During the height of COVID, we were able to re-deploy some caregivers; many who are off during the summer months chose to work on this project but we are also hiring per diem for positions that will become vacant when school goes back. That’s our plan and we're sticking with it…until we need to change it!
Tell us about any challenges you may be facing with vaccine hesitancy.
JT: Well, we deal with a lot of misinformation from chatter that’s just not reliable. It means we need to figure out how to reach people through someone they know or someone they've heard about, so we can change their perspective. What we're seeing is that when we use the strategy of educating and vaccinating a family’s mother, she can then help us get the rest of the family in. I would say misinformation is probably the biggest obstacle we face.
Another concern is that we've had some drop off with people getting the second shot when there’s a two-dose regimen. Granted, when people do get it, they are pretty good about getting the second one. However, the rate of people showing up for their second shots on time has dropped to about 80% versus 95% in the earliest days, which is significant. Of course, that doesn't mean they don't go somewhere else even if they don't get it with us, but that's been our experience.
The challenge overall is what gets people to follow through and actually get the first or second shot.
What have you found rewarding about the results from having the grant?
One of the things I appreciate is that we’ve been able to be reasonably self-sufficient and not had to tap into extra expenses for staffing up. And the other, more important thing, is that once people get it, they are really grateful. For instance, in the early days, the shots were the priority for seniors. They understood that it reduced a lot of risks for them.
Easing the way for those in need
In a recent report, Kevin Manemann, chief executive, Southern California, describes how Providence and organizations such as Community Health Investment are facing the future, “Southern California will continue to see the impacts of the pandemic for years to come and Providence will be there to ease the way for those who suffer, providing them with the care they need and the tools they can use in recovering from this life-changing crisis.”
Jim Tehan, his staff and valuable community health workers will join those efforts to ease the way to better health for their communities. Thanks to their strategic, successful use of grant funding, they’ll be part of the solution for recovery from the crisis.
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