Organizations across the country are working hard to ensure underserved communities have the medical services they need to keep them healthy this flu season.
Health experts say the flu vaccine can help prevent further COVID-19 complications, leading to a major effort to expand treatment, testing and vaccine availability for low income communities.
"We've taken the results of our efforts and we are working with clinicians and community leaders and patient and provider organizations to educate, to promote strategies for increasing flu vaccination by providers," said Dr. Laura Lee Hall, the President of the Center for Sustainable Healthcare Quality and Equity, which is part of the National Minority Quality Forum.
She and other experts have been working over the last two years to come up with a better way to promote flu vaccination in communities of color.
"We should enhance efforts for flu vaccination so as to minimize the risk of serious respiratory illnesses in the population and the toll it can take in the healthcare system. We all know that COVID has disproportionately impacted people of color so they may be even at increased risk," said Dr. Hall.
The group is hoping to boost flu vaccinations up to 40%.
Emergency physician Dr. Kenny Banh, who is also the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education at UCSF-Fresno, has been leading the university's mobile health and learning unit in Fresno, CA. This year, they're using $5 million in Cares Act funds to expand COVID-19 testing and healthcare to underserved areas, in particular, communities of color.
"Besides the fact that it's the feel good and they deserve it and I believe everyone deserves a right to healthcare, but the reality is, it's very hard to understand for a lot of people where they're coming from. A lot of them are disenfranchised," said Dr. Banh.
Dr. Banh says just opening up a clinic with free testing in an underserved community doesn't mean local people there will use it. He says many are fearful of physicians who don't speak their language or don't look like them. They can be worried about what testing implies. Hence, the major effort to serve and educate from all aspects.
"We offer free COVID testing but also we offer free contact tracing and social support services and other preventive health. Meaning, we’re giving out flu shots, we're doing HIV tests. We also concede for your general medical care, blood pressure, diabetes free of cost, no charges for anyone that walks through the door," said Dr. Banh.
Dr. Banh adds, they have several clinics across different communities in Fresno, hoping to ultimately test 8,000 people for COVID by the end of 2020. Dr. Laura Lee Hall says not taking care of underserved communities during the pandemic can have grave implications this winter.
"Living in an environment where social determinants of health are really imperfect and worse than that. So, what has the result been to date? It has been shorter lives. I mean, let’s be clear. Lifespan is shorter for people of color," said Dr. Hall.
Dozens of community organizations working together to provide the best healthcare possible for those who don't have access to it.