From helping vaccinate our health care heroes to hitting the road in modified city buses to reach underserved communities, Minnesota’s nonprofit health plans are rolling out creative strategies to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

This work starts with the equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine and increasing vaccine confidence. Health plans are stepping up efforts to make access to immunizations easier for vulnerable communities while also providing vital information to those who are vaccine-hesitant or have questions about the vaccine. Health plan employees are also sharing their own stories of why they chose to get vaccinated to encourage others to do so. These efforts are especially important as statistics show that COVID vaccination rates in communities of color are lower than those of whites even though mortality in some populations of color can be significantly higher.

Partnering to immunize for impact

A key initiative under way is a collaboration between the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Human Services, and the Minnesota Association of County Health Plans to immunize for impact by tailoring vaccine outreach and distribution to health plan members in ZIP codes with high Social Vulnerability Index scores (SVI).

The SVI takes into consideration 15 social factors, including poverty, disability status, lack of transportation access, and housing status, to identify areas most in need of vaccine services. While 31% of all Minnesotans live in a high SVI ZIP code, it is much higher when stratified by race, with 57% of American Indians and 55% of Black Minnesotans living in a high SVI ZIP code. High SVI ZIP codes are almost evenly split between the Twin Cities Metro and Greater Minnesota, meaning this partnership will reach Minnesotans across the state.

The health plans will work with the state to contact members and provide information on vaccination, assist with scheduling appointments and help plan for their vaccination, including arranging transportation or other services, if needed. Data collected from this partnership will also help inform future public health outreach efforts, including COVID vaccination campaigns for kids.

Getting things rolling

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBSMN) has climbed aboard a program with agencies including MNDOT and Metro Transit to deploy mobile vaccination units. The program uses Metro Transit buses that have been temporarily converted to rolling vaccine clinics. These mobile clinics serve people of color; urban Native Americans; LGBTQI+; people with disabilities and unique health needs; and people experiencing homelessness. Meanwhile, a group of registered nurses from BCBSMN teamed up with North Memorial Health to hold a vaccine clinic in Brooklyn Center. The nurses not only put shots in arms, but also took up the arduous task of prepping doses. “I feel passionate about vaccinating people because it will save lives,” said Jill Lantto, an RN with BCBSMN who volunteers at N. Memorial to give COVID vaccinations.

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Jill Lantto, an RN with BCBSMN, gives a vaccination.

Outreach and teach

UCare and trusted community leaders are working together to build public confidence in the vaccine among people of color and other at-risk Minnesotans. The health plan’s COVID-19 vaccine outreach includes sponsoring clinics in the Cedar Riverside Somali community and educational videos in English, Hmong, Spanish and Somali featuring voices of respected community leaders. UCare is also holding drive-thru vaccine clinics for members at its headquarters in Northeast Minneapolis. Volunteers from UCare helped vaccinate health care workers and school employees, as well.

Show up, drive up and measure up

HealthPartners is making vaccine equity a top priority. Vaccine clinics are being intentionally held in diverse communities. For convenience, in-person and drive-up appointments are available – some on the weekends. HealthPartners doctors are also reaching out through social media, news media and directly to patients. The organization is tracking the results of this work to uncover new opportunities to make a difference.

Supporting the front line

PreferredOne volunteers stepped up early to help short-staffed clinics vaccinate critically important front-line health care workers, helping them be healthy enough to provide care to communities at higher risk. Said one volunteer: “After months of caring for patients with COVID, it was so rewarding to see our front-line staff smile with a sense of relief that their vaccine returned a sense of hope for themselves and for all of us.”

Meet those who lead by example

Over the next several weeks, the Council will be featuring health plan employees on our social media platforms who will share their reasons for getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and why they feel it’s critical to be an example for others. Their stories are both heartfelt and personal. We also believe they are inspirational and will help convince more people to get vaccinated.

“I got vaccinated to protect myself and my family. I wanted to protect my Native community and elders,” said Quanah Walker, Director of Behavioral Health Services at HealthPartners. “Indigenous populations experience more severe outcomes and higher rates of death from COVID-19, and we need to do everything we can to protect our culture, including our people who have the knowledge that we depend on.”

“My community has endured a lot.  We have gotten this far on our journey towards better life and better health – why stop now?” said Pleasant Radford, Jr., Health Equity Officer for UCare.

 

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Pleasant Radford, Jr., Health Equity Officer for UCare