NBC News reports that in Houston, Texas, the novel coronavirus pandemic hit El Centro de Corazón community clinic employees and the predominately Latino clients they serve at the same time. Both live in the same areas in close-knit homes and face many of the same inequities. Medical Director Dr. Kavon Young said in the report that when staff began to show symptoms, they cried. “That was a huge moment for us, because the pandemic had finally hit home,” Young said.
But at the same time, El Centro de Corazón and other community clinics around the country knew they would have a significant role to play during the pandemic. “Early on in the pandemic, they knew they would have to find their own ways to inform their communities about the virus and treat them when they got sick,” the report said, “at the same time cutting through patients’ fears of medical costs or of the government—ensuring that their populations weren’t forgotten.”
One year since the opening weeks of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a main task today for community clinics is getting the vaccine into the arms of their clients. Hispanic Federation President Frankie Miranda told NBC News that the previous administration had focused on getting doses to large hospital systems, which was “not necessarily the best way to help our community.”
El Centro de Corazón’s leader agreed. “Going to the local sports arena or larger health care systems, that is not easy for our population,” Young told NBC News. “Transportation is an issue. There are those that don’t have transportation to go through a drive-thru.”
But there has been a shift under the Biden administration, to put it plainly. Last month, the administration announced the launch of the Federally Qualified Health Center program, which will direct vaccines to community clinics “reaching our underserved and most vulnerable communities,” a statement said. “Community Health Centers provide primary care services in underserved communities across the country. There are more than 1,300 Community Health Centers serving almost 30 million people across the country.”
NPR reported that one such clinic—Nashville, Tennessee’s Neighborhood Health—“is not fending off crowds. They’re seeking people out.” That can even include driving clients to the clinic if a ride falls through. Indeed, an Oakland, California, clinic that has served my 74-year-old immigrant mom for many years (along with many other Latino, immigrant, and low-income clients) sought her out to arrange a vaccine appointment, calling her at home. She has since received her first dose, and has her second dose scheduled for later this month.
But even as community clinics are becoming a focus of the federal government, resources continue to be lacking. El Centro de Corazón told NBC News it got about 100 doses at the very start of the year, and nearly 1,000 more doses since. “We were thankful for it—but by and large, we are not getting the levels we need to vaccinate our community,” CEO Marcie Mir said in the report. The clinic serves about 13,000 people.
Community clinics have also faced challenges when it comes to modernizing technology to handle testing and vaccination caseloads. NBC News reports Hispanic Federation, which worked to raise funds following the Hurricane Maria disaster, has also been assisting community clinics with $50,000 grants from a $1 million fund to update their systems, as well as increase safety measures for staffers. “These are clinics that were telling us they needed money for staffing, more money to update their digital software—imagine you are going to get 900 doses of the vaccine,” Miranda said in the report. “How do you operationalize that if you don’t even have the resources for that?”
“We know what’s required in terms of the labor-intensive effort to focus on the populations and vaccinate the populations at the highest risk,” Neighborhood Health CEO Brian Haile told NPR last month. “What we have to do as a community is say, ‘We’re all going to make this happen.'”
Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner writes that during a prime-time address to the nation Thursday evening, President Biden “announced steps in the speech to make sure those potential doses turn into actual vaccinations. That includes requiring that every state open vaccination to all adults by May 1.” That should include the many clinics across the country that are so invested in protecting their communities.