Statistics show that nearly 40 million adults remain unvaccinated for COVID. The issue isn’t a lack of vaccines. In areas of the country such as Kansas City’s eastside, a section of neighborhoods among the city’s most socially vulnerable, it’s a matter of awareness and meeting the community where it’s at.
Backed by nearly $5 million in CARES Act funding through the Jackson County Legislature, Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., professor of biomedical and health informatics and director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Health Equity Institute, took up the challenge to bring the message as well as the needed vaccines to Kansas City communities with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the city.
A published article on Slate, a daily web magazine and podcast network, chronicles Berkley-Patton’s efforts to launch Our Healthy Kansas City Eastside, a program that has nearly doubled the original goal of vaccinating 5,000 people. Visit the web site here to read the full story.
Faculty and students incorporate vaccination opportunities into clinics, including OHKCE
In the beginning of 2021, faculty from the Department of Dental Public Health at UMKC School of Dentistry responded to a call from the executive director of KC Care Health Center to help administer COVID-19 vaccines.
“Wil Franklin contacted us and said, ‘Dentists have the knowledge and skills, and we need help. Would you consider being trained and working with our medical director to help us with vaccination efforts,’” Meghan Wendland, DDS, MPH, assistant professor UMKC School of Dentistry, said. “Our immediate response was, ‘absolutely.’ We started vaccinating at KC Care then.”
Once the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act in March of 2021, dentists and dental students were authorized to vaccinate against COVID-19 in all 50 states.
“Then we got involved on a much larger scale,” Wendland said. They also got involved with the Our Healthy Kansas City Eastside initiative, providing COVID vaccines and dental health screenings at various OHKCE events.
Melanie Simmer-Beck, Ph.D., RDH, professor and chair of Dental Public Health and Behavioral Science at the UMKC School of Dentistry, said that not only was this a great opportunity to help the community, but the school’s students also benefitted because it came at a time when many educational activities had to be cancelled because of COVID-19.
“We worked with the administration, who responded with their support, and then moved forward to train dental students,” Simmer-Beck said. “Our community partners did not hesitate to have our students getting shots in arms.”
Wendland said she contacted her colleagues in the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies, which Wendland already worked with in interprofessional education, to help train her third-year dental students in vaccination procedures.
“They had the facilities and faculty in place to help, and they immediately agreed to set up a full week where they closed their simulation course rooms, recruited faculty and trained all 107 dental students. They are awesome partners.”
The partnership expanded to the School of Pharmacy, which resulted in training for an additional 63 students.
Simmer-Beck notes that there is a national trend toward integrating oral health into primary care, which has support from the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute.
“I think some of the students may have been a little out of their comfort zone,” Simmer-Beck said. “But it exposed them to what their practice may look like. Within 30-40 years practicing as dentists, I think community health will be widely accepted in the scope of practice.”
The UMKC School of Dentistry has continued success offering vaccinations at their dental clinic.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised how many people are willing to get vaccinated in our dental clinic,” Wendland said. “We have quite a few patients who have been willing to get their entire series here.”
She said even more patients have been interested in getting their boosters at the clinic.
“Patients are catching on quickly that if their dentist can give them a shot in their mouth, they can give them a shot in their arm.”
Maria Meyers has been connecting community resources for more than 18 years
Maria Meyers is executive director, UMKC Innovation Center, and the founder of SourceLink, an organization providing research and development for entrepreneurial communities. She is also serving as one of the Our Healthy Kansas City Eastside co-chairs mobilizing Kansas City’s business community to provide COVID-19 vaccinations.
Her efforts also include providing accurate information on the virus and other basic health services to residents often underserved in health care initiatives. She is working with Daniel Smith, OHKCE business sector co-chair and founder of The Porter House KC, a group developing underserved communities, one business at a time. Together, Meyers and Smith have been recruiting businesses to provide pop-up COVID clinics.
“From the beginning, we spent some time thinking about how we were going to promote this vaccination effort,” Meyers said. “We created merchandise – hats, t-shirts, stickers – that say, ‘Our Healthy Kansas City Eastside’ to help spread the word.”
When the initiative launched, Meyers saw some vaccine hesitancy and the group spent a lot of time on sharing accurate information.
“At our first event, we talked to a lot of people, but our vaccination rate wasn’t very high,” she said. “Now there’s a big difference. We’re up to more than 50 vaccinations at the events and that’s very satisfying.”
Meyers said meeting people where they are has been key to the initiative’s success.
“We needed to be in people’s neighborhoods,” she said. “It was interesting to watch people come out of their homes and apartment buildings to come to the pop-up clinics.”
Meyers doesn’t think their success was entirely due to convenience.
“It was convenient, but there was also time to really sit and talk to people individually about the questions that they had about the vaccine and other medical issues. After talking to someone working at the clinic, that person might say, ‘I’m going to go tell my neighbor to come.’ There was a lot of good word-of-mouth communication.”
Meyers hopes this ongoing trust building and providing health care in neighborhoods will lead to more services and stronger community relationships in the future.
“Thanks to Jeannette Berkley-Patton’s leadership, we were able to bring different groups together – neighborhood associations, businesses, youth groups and churches – and mobilize very quickly,” Meyers said. “And that’s a good lesson for community leaders who might be working toward the same thing, but maybe not collaborating in the same way. It was pretty amazing to watch.”