By Katie Shapcott and Stephanie D. Adams, Ph.D. Center for Global Health Innovation, Office of Health Equity & Crisis Coordination
As vaccines and therapeutics allow most of us to learn to live with COVID-19, the virus’s hold on socially vulnerable communities remains. Throughout the pandemic, the Center for Global Health Innovation (CGHI) has spearheaded community-driven efforts to combat misinformation and mistrust and provide actionable guidance in the neighborhoods and communities that need it most. Through a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Center is now building on this outreach work by implementing its Vaccine Access and Training (VAT) program across seven states.
The primary goal of the VAT program is to work with under-vaccinated, underserved communities to increase confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and increase COVID-19 vaccination rates. By leveraging its partner network and collaborative strategies, CGHI has brought together community health workers (CHWs), local clinics, health professionals, community-based organizations, public health experts and corporate partners to create an ecosystem to promote that confidence in communities across Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, and Texas. Our community partners include Urban Strategies, Georgia College Rural Studies Institute, Wellstar Health System, Pima County Health Department, the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, and the Lukan Group.
CGHI’s outreach model is simple and centered on the community health worker. The CHWs come from a variety of backgrounds but all have deep ties to their communities. They are trusted community leaders and long-time community members, people truly invested in their neighborhoods. CGHI surrounds the CHWs with a support system that includes training, access to health resources, and partnerships with health providers. A dedicated Training and Resource team comprised of health professionals and public health experts from Johns Hopkins University, Emory University, Association of Immunization Managers, and National Association of County and City Health Officials has developed ongoing tailored training and education on COVID-19 and vaccination, put together toolkits, and curated resources.
Outreach workers have benefitted from additional educational opportunities, developing new administrative skills, managing budgets and increasing their digital literacy. Through a partnership with Microsoft, the program features a communication platform that allows community health workers across all seven states to share experiences, challenges, and successes. It helps to foster a sense of community across different and distanced groups as well as providing a nuanced picture of the outreach work as it happens. The platform also provides a channel for dissemination of information from leadership directly to those on the ground.
By employing and empowering trusted community members and leaders, CGHI has been able to address multiple social determinants of health while promoting COVID-19 vaccine confidence. Program partnership has provided corporations, like Walmart and Wellstar Health System, with the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with the underserved communities they serve. Through a partnership with Sharecare, the VAT Program Well-Being Connect Community Hub is being created. This Community Hub will connect and solidify our coalition of partners to maintain and enrich our existing community of stakeholders to improve the health of the under-resourced communities we serve.
The impact of the VAT program, which was launched in Q2 of 2022 is substantial and we expect it to grow exponentially as we continue our outreach. Over a 12-week period in Georgia, the program saw an outreach team of seven in metro Atlanta connect with over 40 local trusted partner organizations and provide community outreach interactions to over 7,000 people. Over that same period, a team of five community health workers in Augusta, Albany and the surrounding rural areas connected with 30 local trusted partner organizations and provided community outreach interactions to over 5,000 people.
This hyperlocal and collaborative approach has proved successful throughout the pandemic, especially for populations historically mistrustful of public health. Its achievements and potential will be highlighted in a panel at CGHI’s Innovation Summit on October 11th, “The Last Mile: How Technology & Corporations Play a Role in Healthcare Delivery”. By continuing to build trusted relationships in the community, CGHI hopes to restore faith and confidence in the public health system.
The Center for Global Health Innovation is a 501(c)(3) organization that brings together diverse Global Health, Health Technology and Life Sciences entities to collaborate, innovate and activate solutions to enhance health outcomes around the world. By organizing, accelerating, and supporting talented people and successful companies to innovate around health problems, The Center works to improve health outcomes and tackle inequities for every community, every individual around the globe. The Center is home for the Global Health Innovation District based in Atlanta, GA, is a full-service biotech co-working facility and industry accelerator, offering flexible laboratory space and offices for early-stage entrepreneurs and health-based ventures.