UMKC Medical Student Builds Trust and Experience

As a first-generation college student, Demi Elrod knew she wanted to be a doctor so she could help people.

Since entering UMKC’s medical school as a second-year student in the six-year B.A/M.D. program, Elrod has discovered an interest in infectious disease and microbiology. So, the decision to volunteer as a vaccinator for Our Healthy Kansas City Eastside was an easy one. The  community-wide initiative promotes and delivers COVID-19 vaccinations and other health services to residents on the east side of Kansas City.

“Since the pandemic began, I have learned a lot about COVID-19 and the vaccine in my classes and during my experiences as a volunteer vaccinator,” Elrod said. “These experiences and lessons have shown me how interesting infectious disease is and how I can serve my community to aid in the pandemic.”

Since August, Elrod has served her community through OHKCE. In addition to providing COVID vaccines and information, the events offer services such as pre-diabetic and blood pressure screenings.

While she hasn’t heard much COVID misinformation, when she does, she takes the time to talk people through their concerns.

“I understand hesitancy,” she said. “People in my family are divided and I just encourage them to talk to their health care provider. There is great information about the vaccine available through trusted sources. Also, I remind them that being vaccinated protects not only you, but also the immunocompromised people around you. Even in my family, I am trying to be a bridge.”

Elrod said she’s also seen people at events who said they don’t want to get vaccinated but are there to observe.

“After a while, even though they said they didn’t want a vaccine, they’re sitting in the chair across from me. They thank me for being there and I say, ‘No, thank you.’ It shows how the medical community can take time to make people comfortable and build a bridge of trust.”

And she thinks having events in the communities where people live make a difference.

“Most people tell me they haven’t gotten vaccinated because available vaccines were too far away, or they’ve had trouble taking the time off to get them. Being in the community has been a great help. The events are really fun and lively with lots of people, music and laughter that come with the education.”

Elrod said working with OHKCE has been an unforgettable experience that’s helped solidify her choice to practice medicine.

“It’s shown me a lot about how important medicine is and how important it is to bridge the gap between community and medical services. The message of OHEKC is, ‘You don’t have to come to us – we can come to you to help.’ Getting that message out builds trust between the community and health care providers.”

Leaders in Health Care Team Up to Fight COVID-19 Spread

Pam Bean and Cameron Lindsey

For the Our Healthy KC Eastside initiative, it truly takes a village.

The effort, designed to fight the spread of COVID-19 and bring access to health services in underserved communities, is being led by the University of Missouri-Kansas City and University Health. Together, these institutions work to educate, test and vaccinate citizens of Eastern Jackson County, Missouri. To make this possible requires numerous staff and student volunteers.

And helping to coordinate them are University Health’s Pam Bean and UMKC’s Cameron Lindsey.

“University Health is a leader in community health,” said Bean, associate administrator, ambulatory care at University Health. “We are the city’s hospital, so it was a natural fit to be part of this effort, to address misinformation and to advocate for and provide vaccinations”

Bean helps coordinate the staffing and operations at University Health’s walk-in COVID vaccination clinic, which is open Monday through Friday. She says based on the health system’s well-trained staff and connections, Jackson County reached out to the organization to come to the forefront of the race to slow the pandemic by providing information, COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

“We had robust practices in place,” Bean says. “We were able to pull from existing staff and focus on outreach.”

Lindsey serves as Pharm.D. and chair of the division of pharmacy practice and administration at the UMKC School of Pharmacy. Her work involves identifying existing UMKC health sciences faculty, staff and students who can provide stop gap measures to meet the demand for vaccinations and health screenings, and provide accurate information.

She has been involved in health care for vulnerable populations throughout her career. She became authorized to provide vaccines at UMKC and worked to operate weekly clinics beginning last winter. In addition, Lindsey secured close to $9 million in donated medications for the Shared Care Free Health Clinic. She also worked with Russell Melchert, dean of the UMKC school of pharmacy, and faculty at the School of Dentistry to provide additional services related to COVID, as well as dental, blood pressure, and diabetes screenings at the OHKCE events.

COVID has become personal for many people throughout Kansas City. Lindsey has lost both friends and family members to the virus. She says these events provide residents with valuable and accurate information on the disease. Even though not everyone will choose to receive a vaccination at an event, the clinics entice them to think about it. And many do get their vaccines.

“We have been able to raise vaccination rates, decrease hospitalizations and increase care for people with other chronic illnesses,” Lindsey said. “This initiative has provided an avenue for good, accurate messaging to help us build trust and help our clients feel comfortable. Ultimately, that helps people make the decision to get vaccinated despite their misgivings.”