Esperanza Health Centers Work to Deliver COVID-19 Vaccines
The southwest side of Chicago has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, Esperanza Health Centers, a federally qualified health center in southwest Chicago, continued to provide much-needed medical care to its patients, including adult care, pediatrics, women’s health, behavioral health, and psychiatry.
Once COVID-19 vaccines became available, Esperanza continued its mission to care for its patients and community by setting up COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Working in partnership with organizations and neighborhood institutions, Esperanza staff have moved beyond the walls of their existing facilities to reach people in specific groups, like older adults (aged >65).
Since late December, Esperanza’s medical staff have administered more than 60,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and have expanded their efforts to four sites, including one in the Little Village neighborhood, one of the most under-resourced communities in Southwest Chicago.
Nate Peña, a registered nurse at Esperanza Health Centers, is currently managing the Little Village neighborhood site. Every day, Peña sees how the vaccines are giving his patients hope.
“I have had patients cry with relief and joy to be receiving such services in a community that has been severely impacted and crippled by COVID-19,” said Peña. “People are filled with excitement and joy to be receiving the vaccine. Our communities are starting to feel relief after having some of the highest positivity rates in the state.”
Esperanza has made special efforts to make sure it distributes vaccine fairly, in accordance with CDC guidelines. To help with distribution, Esperanza sent out a community survey to gauge vaccine hesitancy before rolling out their COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Peña said the surveys showed low hesitancy in adults 65 and older in the community.
“A patient that was 75 stated, ‘You don’t know how excited and relieved I am to be receiving this vaccine—I have hardly left my house since the start of the pandemic.’ After telling me this, she cried,” said Peña. “I will always remember this encounter as it really showed me just how affected this community has been.”
According to Peña, he and his colleagues haven’t encountered many issues, and they are vaccinating more people every week. They currently vaccinate approximately 1,500 people per day.
One of the things that has contributed to their success, Peña explained, is partnerships in the community that have helped remove barriers so they could reach more people. One partnership includes Mansueto High School, which has given them capacity to expand clinic operations on school grounds. With this added space, Esperanza was able to set up efficient vaccine clinics with staff at registration performing check-ins, scheduling, and screening. Patients then proceed to a station with a licensed healthcare professional who documents and administers the vaccine.
Education and communication are also critical components to this vaccination effort. Esperanza has been working to educate members of the community and its own staff. This initiative started with a town hall meeting to answer questions from Esperanza staff and, according to Peña, a lot of this information has carried over to patients at the clinics.
As trusted members of the community, Esperanza staff members not only discuss COVID-19 vaccination with patients during regularly scheduled clinic visits, they also participate in numerous virtual forums, town halls, and other online presentations to explain the science behind COVID-19 vaccines and answer questions from the community.
Esperanza also created short, easy-to-read vaccine information flyers in English and Spanish, which they give to patients when they get vaccinated. Patients have felt empowered by this information and use it to become trusted messengers, sharing facts and dispelling misinformation with family and friends. The clinic staff also works with the local media to reach both English and Spanish speakers in their community.
“As an organization, we are grateful to be serving so many individuals in communities that otherwise may not have access to the vaccine,” says Peña. “I would say this has been one of the greatest parts of managing a vaccine clinic—addressing equity and breaking barriers.”