Blog Post

How MLK Community Healthcare is closing the Covid-19 vaccine equity gap in South LA.

By Allyson PaiewonskyClare Wirth

May 11, 2021

    MLK Community Healthcare's (MLKCH) campus location provides upwards of 600 vaccines daily. But that wasn't enough to reach the most marginalized communities of South Los Angeles. To help close the vaccine equity gap, the health system rolled out mobile pop-up Covid-19 vaccine clinics.

    How to advance equity for your workforce, patients, and community

    Disparities in MLKCH's patient population

    MLKCH serves L.A. County's most vulnerable population. Poverty rates, unemployment, and metrics of poor health all exceed any other region of L.A. Over 90% of South L.A.'s population are Black and Latino residents, who are two to three times more susceptible to mortality from Covid-19 compared to white residents.

    Yet vaccine administration has lagged in South L.A. relative to more affluent areas. As of April 9th, less than 30% of people in MLKCH's service area were vaccinated, compared to other areas of LA with vaccination rates above 46%. This disparity results from several factors, including a lack of access to technology and the skills needed to book online vaccination appointments. Additionally, many South L.A. residents lack transportation and the ability to take time off work, which creates further barriers to vaccine access. 

    Their approach

    In partnership with community-based organizations, MLKCH aims to make vaccine distribution more equitable and easily accessible to the South L.A. population. Their mobile vans bring vaccines directly to the communities that need them most, maximizing accessibility and ease. Eligible residents can register for an appointment or walk-up for a free Covid-19 vaccine at any of the vaccine sites. The mobile van staff is comprised of paid workers from agencies and volunteers from MLKCH and the community.

    There are 3 key components to rolling out the pop-up vaccine clinics:

     

    1. Use data-driven heat maps to pinpoint areas of greatest need.

    MLKCH's Population Health team created heat maps to determine where to set up the mobile vaccination clinics for the most equitable use of resources. The heat map identifies areas that experienced a high incidence of Covid-19 during the second wave of the pandemic. Many of the factors that led to higher rates of Covid-19 in these areas remain, leaving the South L.A. population highly vulnerable to future outbreaks.

    Using this data, MLKCH and their community partners deploy the mobile vans to public locations with high foot traffic, such as shopping plazas and public parks. MLKCH also honors requests from organizations in high-density areas, such as churches, grocery stores, and youth programs.

     

    2. Employ a grassroots communication strategy.

    To spread awareness of their vaccination services, MLKCH's community outreach team taps into channels they've used for other community health campaigns. For example, they use social media and radio ads geotargeted to key zip codes. They also partner with the Boys and Girls Club of Metro L.A. to get the word out and help register community members for vaccine appointments.

    MLKCH maintains consistency in the days, times, and locations of the mobile clinics, making it easier for information to spread through word-of-mouth and help drive traffic to mobile clinics. The team also provides flyers at each clinic site that list the future dates and locations so community members know when the mobile clinic will return. This consistency has paid off—about five times as many people are registered now as compared to the first day of the mobile clinics.

    3. Equip staff to handle the tough conversations.

    When MLKCH started vaccinating their own staff, leaders started tracking why people were hesitant and what questions they had. Using that information, MLKCH's Population Health team developed a community education booklet (available in both English and Spanish). The booklet includes information on how the vaccine works and busts common myths driving vaccine mistrust. All mobile van staff receive this booklet and are trained so they can provide the community with the best available vaccine information.

    Importantly, vaccine clinic staff never pressure anyone to get vaccinated. Instead, clinic staff educate, answer questions, have conversations, and share their own experiences getting the Covid-19 vaccine. This strategy helps build trust and empower community members to make their own educated decision around vaccination. MLKCH deploys Spanish-speaking staff in high Spanish-speaking areas to help facilitate these conversations.

    Results

    MLKCH has administered 25,688 doses since mid-December. The mobile clinics have administered 4,759 of those doses since their implementation in February. They now have four mobile vaccination teams who can easily accommodate 300 vaccinations per location two to three days per week.

    MLKCH credits much of their success to their efforts to inform, educate, and encourage community members to get vaccinated. Education efforts include hosting webinars for the community developed by MLKCH physicians and staff. MLKCH has hosted community forums and town halls led by MLKCH's CEO, SVP of Population Health, and staff. These events helped educate the community on vaccine safety and debunk common misconceptions. Additionally, MLKCH updated their website to include vaccine resources for the community and a chatbot feature, which provides an interactive tool for community members to learn where they can get vaccinated.

    Next steps

    When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has pulled from the market, MLKCH saw a sharp decline in vaccine appointments, and staff at mobile clinics have witnessed an increase in vaccine hesitancy among South L.A. residents. Now more than ever, MLKCH's focus is on continued education for their community. MLKCH will continue to fully support their community by educating South L.A. residents on the latest Covid-19 information and providing services to ensure community safety.

    MLKCH and their community partners aim to vaccinate as many members of the community as possible in the South L.A. area to achieve herd immunity within Los Angeles and surrounding areas. The Population Health department at MLKCH will continue to partner with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines is consistently acquired and maintained for the South L.A. community.

    We would like to recognize the following individuals for being particularly generous with their time and expertise: Nadira (Aisha) Ahmad, Dr. Jorge Reyno, Lauren Espy, and Kris Ordonez Maldonado. MLKCH would like to thank the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for providing vaccines for the residents of South LA. MLKCH would also like to thank International Medical Corps for their donation of outdoor tents, canopies, tables, chairs, timers, and other critical supplies. MLKCH would also like to thank Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for contributing to a weekly mobile clinic partnership since March 2021.  For any questions, Aisha Ahmad can be reached at nahmad@mlkch.org.

    How to advance equity for your workforce, patients, and community

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