After a year of battling the pandemic, Central Mass. community health center workers play a leading role in the vaccination effort
Community health center workers, who have served many of those most vulnerable to COVID-19 over the past year, are now on the front lines of the vaccination effort.
“Our staff is leading by example,” said Worcester’s Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center President and CEO Stephen Kerrigan after a recent vaccination clinic for health center workers. “We told our employees to take time to learn as much about the new vaccines as possible, but we felt that we had a role and a responsibility as health care leaders to demonstrate their safety and efficacy to our patient population who may be a little more wary.”
A vital mission
Founded in a Worcester housing project in 1972, the Kennedy Community Health today serves nearly 29,000 patients of Worcester, Framingham, Milford, and the surrounding communities of MetroWest and Central Massachusetts. More than 90% of the centers’ patients are low-income and more than 70% identify as a racial or ethnic minority.
The spirit of community health center founders — former Freedom Summer medics galvanized by the health inequities they saw in the South as they aided in African-American voter registration —drives Kennedy Community Health’s mission to this day, Kerrigan said.
“We are there for those who don’t necessarily know how to use their own voice for themselves,” Kerrigan said, noting the health center’s patients speak 92 languages and the vast majority are uninsured or insured by MassHealth. “We are there for those who don’t have a granddaughter or grandson or the means to be online to sign up for a mass vaccination site.”
When the pandemic hit a year ago, infection and hospitalizations spiked in the communities served by the health center, bringing extraordinary challenges. But Kennedy Community Health remained committed to providing high-quality and inclusive care to its patients.
“You are stars,” Kerrigan recalls telling his staff. “The stars need the darkness in order to shine, and that’s what our team has done every day of this pandemic.”
Sense of urgency
On a recent chilly morning in March, Jaya Rawla, a nurse practitioner in Kennedy Community Health’s addiction medicine program, was administering the vaccine to her health center colleagues. Her year of helping care for COVID patients gave her a keen sense of urgency.
The data overwhelmingly tells us that the vaccines that have been authorized in the U.S.— Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer — protect you from getting coronavirus.