Coming Together: Bringing COVID-19 Vaccinations to Prince Georges County, MD

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Symptoms of mental health distress have been on an alarming rise as a result of the stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of more than 5,000 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported rates of  “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition” which reflects an increase of  3 to 4 times greater than the rates from last year. When considering the rapid deterioration of mental health in the general population, we must also reflect on the vulnerability of individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions—particularly with a serious mental illness (SMI).

Ensuring that persons living with an SMI are vaccinated against COVID-19 is an important priority to ensure their overall mental health and wellness is not exacerbated by Coronavirus symptoms. Individuals living with an SMI are at a disproportionately more likely to experience increased mental illness symptoms, an increased risk of substance use, increased feelings of isolation, and a lack of care coordination services to manage both their mental and physical health. Additionally, it is estimated that approximately 250,000 individuals who have an SMI are also homeless. Housing options for individuals experiencing an SMI and homelessness may have limitations (i.e., shelters, shared housing, etc.) that increase risk for infection without adequate options to quarantine or practice social distancing.

The behavioral health workforce is an integral part of providing an array of mental health services, counseling, care coordination, medication management, and treatment to individuals with an SMI. To promote a culture of care that treats both the providers and the individuals they serve, it is imperative that public health strategies maximize opportunities to provide education on vaccines, host vaccination clinics, and create community partnerships that facilitate access to vaccinations. Leveraging partnerships across organizations to address public health issues and reduce health disparities is an effective model to drive change. An excellent example is a recently announced partnership between Uber and Walgreens Pharmacy. Uber will provide free transportation to COVID-19 vaccination clinics to individuals in underserved communities in Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, and El Paso.

To meet the needs of Prince George’s County residents, Volunteers of America Chesapeake & Carolinas’ (VOACC) VOA Hope Center and Walgreens have partnered together launch a local COVID-19 vaccination clinic . Formally an integrated behavioral health and primary care center, the VOA Hope Center now also functions as a vaccination clinic for residents from VOACC’s long-term care facilities and their staff.  The VOA Hope Center offers services needed to create access, stabilize people in crisis, and provide the necessary treatment for those with the most serious, complex behavioral health illnesses, substance use disorders, and chronic medical conditions. On January 21, Walgreens Pharmacy successfully administered more than 70 vaccinations at the VOA Hope Center’s Greenbelt office in Maryland. A second round of vaccinations is scheduled for February 11. Walgreens is one of the first pharmacies to begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations to long-term care staff and residents. They were also selected as a pharmacy partner by the CDC to enhance vaccine access to underserved populations throughout the US.

A-G Associates is excited to serve the VOA Hope Center as their program evaluation and strategic planning partner. A-G provides planning and technical assistance to their leadership team to meet goals and objectives for their two-year Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) Grant. As the evaluation partner, A-G Associates guides the design and implementation of the logic model as a planning tool to monitor program activities, track organizational change, and assess relationships between those activities and patient-level outcomes. To support strategic planning at the organizational level, A-G Associates works in conjunction with all levels of the VOA Hope Center leadership and community partners to identify shared goals, assess collaboration and integration across partner systems, and assess factors that will contribute to the development of a sustainability plan. A-G Associates has been a partner from the beginning, since the grant award in May 2019, and it will continue to lend its organizational skills and knowledge to ensure the VOA Hope Center thrives in their goal to alleviate mental illness.

Volunteers of America Chesapeake & Carolinas, Inc. is a faith-based, nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower self-reliance and inspire hope. As a church without walls, the organization does this through personalized housing, ministry, health, and human services that benefit vulnerable individuals, their families and the community.

The organization has more than 49 programs throughout Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Carolinas serving the homeless, individuals with mental illness, individuals with intellectual disabilities, those in need of affordable housing, those in need of supportive services, those recovering from substance use disorders and those involved in community corrections.

VOACC has over 800 staff members and more than 2,000 volunteers. The organization helps over 9,600 individuals and families every year from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and the Carolinas.

A-G serves as a strategic partner for VOACC and we are proud to support their efforts. We invite you to learn more about A-G’s projects and staff. If you would like to discuss a partnership with A-G Associates contact Chris Gonzalez at cgonzalez@a-gassociates.com or visit our website.

For more information about the VOA Hope Center, please visit https://www.voachesapeake.org/voa-hope-center.

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