We may finally be turning a corner in the year-long fight against COVID-19. The massive vaccination effort underway gives us reason to have hope that life will eventually get better. We are proud that Community Health Centers are front and center in the Biden Administration’s national strategy to get as many people as possible vaccinated. This is our best weapon against the spread of the virus.
Our task is two-fold: we must ensure that vaccines are administered in hard-to-reach communities. We also must build vaccine confidence in communities where there is skepticism and fear. That is why NACHC is one of the more than 100 founding members of the COVID-19 Community Corps, a broad and far-reaching initiative to build vaccine confidence through community-based organizations, businesses, faith-based organizations, and unions. Community Health Centers have been tapped for this task because this is a job they have carried out for more than five decades.
Health centers are long-standing and trusted messengers in the community because they are built from the bottom up, by the community. Health center boards are required to have a 51 percent patient majority. It is this patient-driven dynamic that informs the health center model of care. I know this firsthand because I have spent 28 years as a board member and 33 years as a health center patient. I have seen how board members can help create a groundswell of public support for initiatives big and small.
Consumer board members are patient advocates whose job is to speak out and say to management when needed: “No, this program will not work; Not in this neighborhood. Not in this culture. Not in this environment.” This feedback loop is essential for communities and patient populations where there is skepticism or fear about vaccines and the medical establishment. Words alone will not change minds. It’s people: people, who are committed to those words; people who understand their meaning and can change minds.
When health centers were created by the federal government more than five decades ago as part of America’s War on Poverty, the vision was to empower communities to take charge and find solutions to their health needs. That model is now ready to boldly step forward and meet this historic moment.
Around the country the work has begun. Health centers are already forging the connections and partnerships with schools, churches, local businesses, foundations and community leaders to respond to local health care needs. They are utilizing their consumer boards to ensure that there is no gap between patients and health centers; that the channels of communications are open and adaptive to a diverse patient population. In the final leg of this fight, truth matters. Trust matters. And Community Health Centers have a well-earned reputation for delivering both.
Join NACHC in building the public’s confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines. Become a volunteer with the COVID-19 Community Corps!
Yvonne Davis is a Community Health Center Patient and Consumer/Board Member Representative for NACHC.