Talk to a member of the Providence Medical Group Access Health Equity team and you’ll quickly get caught up in their excitement, enthusiasm and passion for going into underserved communities to build trust and provide care for those who have been misunderstood or overlooked.
Their goal is to reach out into the community – meeting people where they are – to build trust in the health care system and to provide essential care. A key component of their work is partnering closely with community-based organizations (CBOs) to go where they are needed, instead of expecting people to visit a PMG clinic.
Working with 71 CBOs, the team has gone directly into communities and held more than 400 vaccination events in locations close to where people live, work and play, including schools, assisted living facilities, parks, places of worship, restaurants, cultural and sporting events, museums and libraries. The team has administered more than 75,000 COVID vaccines so far.
“Providence came out into the communities, really listened, and slowed down the conversations,” says Teresa Johnson, who is supervisor of clinical operations for the Access Health Equity team and also serves as program director for a CBO.
“We’re intentional when go to a vaccine event, whether we vaccinate one person, a hundred or none,” says Teresa. “A lot of times people are reluctant and hesitant. We slow it down, break it down and listen to their fears. One person said she would do it only if I walked her through the process. I did, she got vaccinated, and then she brought her family back to get vaccinated.”
Filling a greater need
While the COVID vaccination work continues in the community, the Access Health Equity team also recognized a greater need. Partnering again with the CBOs, the team has begun providing essential primary care services in communities that traditionally have been underserved.
“Our community members have been lost to health care. There are a lot of barriers – they can’t afford it, they don’t have a car to get to a brick-and-mortar clinic, they don’t have child care, or any number of factors,” says Britt Leidig with the Access Health Equity team. “They don’t trust the health care system, and so we spent months thinking about the best approach.”
To meet communities where they are, the team considers key factors such as understanding language and culture. Teresa remembers events with members of the Somali community and hearing them refer to ‘sweet pea.’
“Finally, I asked, ‘What is sweet pea?’ That’s the term they use for diabetes. So now that’s what we call it when working with the Somalian community,” she said, adding that the partner CBOs often provide valuable interpreters, as well as a range of other services, at health events.
Looking to the future
The Access Health Equity Team currently is conducting a pilot program with Providence Medical Group – Gateway to include providers at health care events to expand primary care services. Jacob Casey, M.D., has participated in the development of this pilot since September 2022.
“If our work helps even one person feel more comfortable accessing health care, then we're on the right track,” says Dr. Casey. “I hope showing up to a community and offering our expertise connects more people to care.”
Britt says the Access Health Equity team has helped her think outside her comfort zone. “We were stood up to think outside the box. That can be uncomfortable. I’m a nurse and I want to do things that I know work,” she says. “I love that this team has found a way to do both.”
“I’m very happy Providence is giving me a chance to fuse two things near and dear to my heart – health care and ministry, the work God has called us to do,” says Teresa.