(Source: World Health Organization)
(Source: World Health Organization)

Today is World Health Day, and as the World Health Organization so accurately spotlighted, “Our world is an unequal one … this is not only unfair: it’s preventable.”

Let me say this boldly enough for those of you reading this – Equity and equality are not impossible.

But they won’t be easy to achieve. We need all hands on deck to help turn localized ripples of equity and equality into collective waves.

Looking through the lens of healthy equity and equality, the numbers are haunting. Based on the most recent data, in Pennsylvania, 8% of our families, friends, and neighbors are Latino or Hispanic. Less than 1% of the individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania so far are Latino or Hispanic.

If you drill down even further there is limited data at the local level so the degree of COVID-19 vaccine equity in our communities is unknown or not reported.

This is unacceptable.

As our community’s homegrown and locally rooted health center for 50+ years, it is our purpose at Union Community Care to identify all angles of equity: Race and ethnicity; socioeconomic status; poverty; education; geography; transportation challenges; language barriers; and ability level.

We have to look at the work we do and ask the critical question, “Who is disproportionately benefiting, and who is not?” And when we see who is not, when we see those individuals whose needs often go unseen and unmet, that is our call to action.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, we were prepared to be there with – and for – our community. We opened our doors as the first COVID-19 testing site in Lancaster city, initiated county-wide contact tracing and education to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community, and launched a marketing and social media campaign to reach out to our non-English speaking neighbors who didn’t have a primary care provider.

These efforts were made to consciously break down barriers to care and reduce significant health disparities affecting vulnerable patients and community members. Above all, these efforts were made to save lives.

And that was only the beginning.

With hope on the horizon in the midst of this pandemic, we now have to work even harder to ensure that COVID-19 care, testing, treatments to reduce hospitalization and death, and vaccine are available to vulnerable community members at places they trust.

Union Community Care now receives vaccine directly from the Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program launched by the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and we are proactively working with community partners to vaccinate our most vulnerable patients and community members over the next several months.

We are also positioning our leadership to ask our patients and community the right questions and advocate for them through various healthcare and vaccine equity committees. It’s how we ensure the voices of our patients and community’s most vulnerable are heard. This includes providing direct services in addition to advocating for policy level interventions — such as the creation of a public health department that serves our region. This in and of itself is an equity intervention.

Equity work is not work you do alone. And in no way do we think Union Community Care stands alone in this. Our partnerships are intentional and connected to other initiatives in Lancaster. Partnership is where the most opportunities are that will transform localized ripples of equity and equality into collective waves. Partnership is the spectrum through which we will make lasting change. Partnership is how we will improve quality of life for everyone. Partnership is how we will continue to save lives.

Alisa Maria Jones
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