Health Equity Through Access: AmeriHealth Caritas Wellness Center Hosts COVID Vaccinations
Addressing racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations by collaborating with local government to support marginalized communities
AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those most in need, is collaborating with local government to host COVID-19 vaccinations. It has opened its Chester, Pa., Wellness and Opportunity Center as a COVID-19 vaccination site, filling a void for a community disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Using its wellness center to improve access to the vaccine and build greater health equity is an initiative that could become a model for AmeriHealth Caritas’ other wellness centers, which serve lower-income communities in Pennsylvania, greater Wilmington, Del., the District of Columbia, New Orleans and Shreveport, La., and Columbia, S.C.
In its ongoing commitment to improving vaccine access for Americans in greatest need, AmeriHealth Caritas assessed options for residents of Chester, a mostly Black urban community just outside of Philadelphia. Its southeastern Pennsylvania Medicaid health plan – with assistance from its community partners, the city of Chester, and the Delaware County COVID Task Force – decided to open its wellness center, located at 1929 W. 9th Street, as an official Delaware County vaccination site.
“Although people of color, especially those in low-income communities, are more likely to contract and suffer serious complications from COVID-19, reliable data indicate they are receiving a disproportionately low percentage of the vaccines, compared to those in more affluent communities,” said AmeriHealth Caritas Chairman and CEO Paul A. Tufano. “Our company serves many who fall into the high-risk category, so we want to do everything possible to help lower barriers that would prevent our members from being vaccinated and achieving and maintaining positive health outcomes.”
According to recent Kaiser Family Foundation data, which draw from 23 states, Blacks and Hispanics have received disproportionately fewer vaccine doses. Preventing racial disparities in the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among those who wish to receive them will be important for helping to mitigate the excessive impacts of the virus for people of color and preventing widening racial health disparities going forward.
Joanne McFall, AmeriHealth Caritas’ southeastern Pennsylvania market president, said the creation of a neighborhood-based COVID-19 vaccination site was the result of health plan’s longstanding history of working directly in local communities to address health equity. The health plan has recently joined local officials and community partners to support efforts to provide COVID-19 testing and food distribution events to address food insecurity in Chester. It will also support many of the city’s residents who may not have transportation to the site or the technology to register to get the vaccine.
“We believe leveraging relationships with our community partners is the most effective way to address these racial disparities and health inequities,” McFall said. “Given the pandemic restrictions, we have had to be creative to keep our commitments to the city of Chester and connect residents to critical resources. We are also working with local officials and other trusted community leaders to help individuals make informed decisions about vaccination.”
The Chester Wellness and Opportunity Center was closed last March due to the pandemic. The facility was developed to help residents overcome the social, economic, and environmental barriers to achieving and maintaining a healthy life. It is purposely embedded in a marginalized neighborhood to be a direct resource for the city’s residents.
Local municipal leaders and state legislators joined AmeriHealth Caritas representatives at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 26 to officially open the vaccination site.
“Having an accessible vaccination site within our community is paramount in our efforts to remove barriers that affect our residents’ ability to receive the vaccine,” said Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. “The Chester City Board of Health, our Bureau of Health, and city officials are all confident in our community partners, and we look forward to working in tandem to address all other barriers or fears that residents may have concerning being vaccinated.”
“Delaware County is grateful that the partnership with AmeriHealth Caritas and the City of Chester has allowed us to offer vaccinations to the Chester community, which we know has suffered barriers to receiving quality healthcare,” said Delaware County Councilman Kevin M. Madden. “The vaccine site will immediately begin to address the public health needs of the community and the future services of the wellness center will provide the community with public health services that will build greater health equity for residents of Chester.”
In addition to the neighborhood-based location, AmeriHealth Caritas also allowed one of its corporate facilities to be temporarily used as a special vaccination site to serve vulnerable groups in underserved areas throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, including Delaware County – where 10% of the county’s population of 543,000 live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau reports – and the southwest section of Philadelphia, one of the most high-poverty areas of the city.