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The Covid-19 pandemic has increasingly illuminated health disparities that exist in the United States, but it has also increased the community work that helps to find solutions to these issues. Partnerships between local community and faith-based organizations, public health officials, and managed care organizations have proven critical to addressing gaps in care in underserved communities.

Dr. Melissa Clarke is the Medical Advisor for the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities, a consortium of faith-based organizations, public health entities, and medical professionals that uses a holistic, multifaceted approach to address these health needs in and around Washington D.C. She’s been part of a UnitedHealthcare national initiative called Stop COVID that is making care more accessible in the Washington D.C. metro area with testing, vaccinations – and much more.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times because of historic injustices and mistreatment that a lot of people of color experience when they show up for services — either being overlooked, ignored or having their symptoms downplayed — it’s left a deep chasm in terms of communities of color trusting the medical establishment,” Dr. Clarke said. “So that’s where community-based organizations and faith-based organizations can step into that space, advocate for community, and bridge and heal that gap.” Black communities have been hit hard by Covid-19, revealing deep disparities. Blacks make up about 46% of the District of Columbia’s population, yet account for 75% of all deaths from the virus.

The goal of Stop COVID has been to engage multiple community partners to provide free Covid-19 testing and vaccines, along with food boxes, social services resources, and health and safety kits — accessible from community sites, such as local Black churches like the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church. The church proved to be an ideal place as a testing site, not only for its close proximity to a bus line, but because of the trust and safety felt between the community and its faith leaders. It has also become a vaccination site.

Stop COVID is a collaboration between UnitedHealthcare, the leader in health benefits, and the following in the Washington, D.C. area:

“We, as a managed care organization, have the ability to bring the collective dedication and capabilities of UnitedHealthcare to the communities we are privileged to serve when they are in great need,” said Kathlyn Wee, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Maryland & DC. “In addition to addressing the immediate need to lessen the impact of Covid-19, we are also focused on the underlying factors that contribute to health inequity in vulnerable communities.”

By investing in all aspects of the community’s health – through needed medical testing, food donations, and resources for social services — collaborations with trusted organizations may help improve outcomes and build equity for underserved communities.

Sullivan Robinson, executive director for the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities, said that in each case, the pastoral leaders were involved in the process becoming a public voice of the event — and even being tested and vaccinated themselves.

“And the community was able to see that and embrace that,” she said. “It’s still very important for our outreach that it’s coming from a place of trust and familiarity, a place where you can talk about your hesitations, and then work through those anxieties, and come to a better place.”

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