Posted on May 24, 2021
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Johns Hopkins Medicine has remained committed to reaching the most vulnerable patients and community residents with information, resources and care options.
“Johns Hopkins is a long-serving part of the communities in which we operate,” says Jeanne Hitchcock, special adviser to the vice president for Johns Hopkins local government, community and corporate affairs. “The well-being of our most vulnerable populations is a responsibility we take seriously, and we believe that responsibility dictates that we take our clinical services into the community to remove as many barriers to care as possible.”
In February, Baltimore City announced an effort to partner with area health care systems including Johns Hopkins Medicine, LifeBridge Health and MedStar Health to equitably bring COVID-19 vaccines to communities that have less access and greater challenges to getting vaccinated. Katie O’Conor, M.D. — Johns Hopkins Medicine’s unified command operations chief — and The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine Office of Government and Community Affairs worked together to assemble comprehensive, multidisciplinary vaccine teams.
Their efforts were aligned with and modeled after clinics launched by Sibley Memorial Hospital. Marissa McKeever, government and community affairs director; Nicki McCann, chief of staff; and Ben Bigelow, acting associate director of operations for COVID-19 vaccine administration, led the Sibley effort. The groups quickly mobilized to set up clinics at locations around Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in harder-hit communities determined by local governments. The robust teams include health care and logistical staff members, security personnel and other support professionals.
“We are reaching individuals that may have mobility issues or high-risk health conditions, and we’re working to meet them where they are,” says O’Conor. “We are dedicated to making an extra effort to make sure we’re providing equitable care to those that need it most.”
Dependent on the city’s guidance on these highest need areas, the Johns Hopkins government and community affairs team visits housing facilities, faith-based organizations, schools, community centers and other key locations to build relationships with community members. The teams identify language needs in advance, and they determine if any residents are home-limited — this helps the operational vaccine team plan, which can send a miniteam to vaccinate residents in their units.
The comprehensive vaccine team also uses the Office of Government and Community Affairs’ preliminary information to decide what it will need to bring on the day of the vaccine clinic. Each facility’s layout is assessed to establish a fluid flow of traffic and to keep everything moving as smoothly and efficiently as possible. The clinic’s structure and components are the same everywhere, but the layout is adaptable. These on-location clinics can be “popped up” and broken down in just a few hours.
Initially, vaccine supply was extremely limited, and Johns Hopkins had very little insight about how much supply it would receive weekly from the government. Considering these challenges, a methodical approach was taken to roll out the available supply to communities of older adults and people with disabilities, and to communities with significant barriers to care. Johns Hopkins continues to dedicate extra efforts to creating access for the hardest-hit and perhaps hardest-to-reach populations.
“Very similar to the senior community, the disability community has enormous barriers,” says O’Conor. “Many have mobility issues, health risks, or technology barriers to being able to register. Disabilities can be intellectual, developmental or physical, making getting to a clinic very complex, or not possible. We adjust as needed so residents don’t even need to go outside or put on a coat. They just go downstairs and get their vaccinations, or we go to them.”
The teams come prepared to accommodate everyone. O’Conor says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive, joyful and rewarding for the team.
While some people initially questioned getting vaccinated because they didn’t know how they would feel afterward, the team’s doctors answered all of their questions and gave them advice on possible symptoms. Language translators are also on-site to ensure clear and accurate communication. Once people saw others being vaccinated, they felt more confident.
“Johns Hopkins showed that they really care about my residents,” says Kimberley Moore, resident services coordinator at Johnston Square Apartments in Baltimore. “Too many residents have died from COVID in my building. I know the vaccine is not a cure, but it is something to help my residents fight it off. The team did a tremendous job. I’m looking forward to them coming back with the same energy, love and concern they showed the first time.”
Christine Freeland, an older adult who lives in Waters Towers Apartments, says she feels safer after getting the vaccine.
“I was afraid to travel without my shot,” says Freeland. “Once I get my second shot, I’m going to California to see my baby granddaughter for the first time. I’ve been encouraging all my friends to get the shot. When your time comes, go get it.”