Choptank Community Health System was recently chosen to present “Strengthening Foundations of Trust Across the Eastern Shore: A Story of Equitable Vaccine Distribution” as part of the 2021 Maryland Rural Health Conference: Rural Resiliency, Reflection & Recovery.
The virtual conference took place Oct. 18-19, with the vaccine equity presentation given by Choptank Community Health Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Forte, MHA, FACHE, and Director of Community Based Programs Chrissy Bartz, PA-C.
Forte and Bartz discussed Choptank Community Health’s response to the community’s need for equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccination throughout the Mid-Shore.
“Our partners helped to identify where we needed to be with vaccines in the community,” said Choptank Community Health CEO Sara Rich. “Choptank Health quickly responded by participating in numerous outreach events throughout the region.”
“Choptank Community Health immediately came to us, we didn’t have to ask them,” said Nancy Andrew, who led the local Vaccine Equity Task Force which was a joint effort between the county and the Talbot County Health Department. “They said, ‘How do we help?’ as soon as they heard about what we were doing."
Andrew said more than 200 vaccine-hesitant and hard-to-reach individuals were vaccinated in Talbot County due to the grassroots, community-based efforts of Choptank Community Health and other vaccine equity partners.
Choptank Community Health worked with numerous community partners to host vaccinations events throughout the Mid-Shore. Outreach partners included all local health departments, along with The Avalon Foundation, Building African American Minds (BAAM), the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center, Eastern Shore Network for Change, Oxford Community Center, Preston Automotive Group, Talbot County Public Schools, Talbot County Economic Development, and the Town of St. Michaels.
“There was a lot of hesitancy. I think we counted over 90 people who told us they weren’t comfortable getting the vaccine,” said Eastern Shore Network for Change Co-Founder Dion Banks. Banks said the organization worked together with Choptank Health to create an event that had people gravitating to medical professionals who provided free vaccinations and education to address vaccination hesitancies and doubts.
Choptank Health provided vaccinations at two Avalon events — the Easton Carnival and the Multicultural Festival at Idlewild Park. The Avalon Foundation’s Jessica Bellis commented that participating in this year’s Multi-Cultural Festival was a highlight of her year because the event was incredibly effective at reaching the audiences they were trying to reach.
“It was so fantastic to see the hard work paying off and to see people that were so grateful and thankful to receive a vaccination,” said Bellis. “It was a real high point in a year that felt really dark.”
“You get one shot in one arm, to me that’s a success,” said St. Michaels Police Chief Anthony Smith, who served on the Vaccine Equity Task Force. “It’s comforting to know when you can reach out to a partner like that, and they show up, and no questions asked. And it gave me some comfort knowing that these are the kind of folks that we got out there in the community.”
The presentation was part of the MRHC conference’s Building a Resilient Community Health Worker Workforce to Support Rural Maryland (In Normal and Not So Normal Times) session. As part of the presentation, Choptank Health shared a video featuring several local community members commenting about Choptank Health’s impact in providing access to COVID-19 vaccinations for the area’s most hard-to-reach and hesitant individuals. The video is available online at bitly.com/vaxaccess.
The Maryland Rural Health Association is a nonprofit organization with a mission to educate and advocate for the optimal health and wellness of Maryland’s 18 rural counties and their residents. Learn more at mdruralhealth.org.
Choptank Community Health System provides medical and dental services in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties. More information is at choptankhealth.org.