VALHALLA – The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) has established the Health Equity Task Force (HETF) to help ensure all residents of the Hudson Valley region have access to information, education, and resources to ensure robust vaccination as the state ramps up COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts. Westchester Medical Center is serving as the coordinator for the Hudson Valley Region Hub of New York State’s Regional Vaccine Network.
HEFT’s goal is to ensure health equity is a priority woven into every facet of COVID-19 vaccination efforts (e.g., education, communication, dissemination, challenges, prevention efforts, etc.), and that short-term and long-term vaccination program development and implementation reflects an array of diverse community perspectives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially-determined circumstances*. ““HETF is comprised of community stakeholders and clinical champions representing communities throughout the Hudson Valley. It is an extension of WMCHealth’s mission to be of service to everyone in our region, and underscores our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as a healthcare provider and as an employer,” said Michael D. Israel, President and CEO of WMCHealth. “We are well prepared to build on our strong, existing foundation of community engagement.”
Ensuring Health Equity in Vaccine Distribution
WMCHealth’s HETF is comprised of 75 clinical experts and community stakeholders, including leaders of organizations serving diverse populations, faith-based institutions and social service agencies, along with representatives from the New York State.
Task force members meet weekly to identify vaccine access and distribution barriers and develop solutions to remove them, particularly impediments that affect underserved communities. HETF is sharing identified issues, along with solution recommendations, with New York State to refine vaccine distribution strategies. HETF’s specific focus areas are available for review at COVIDInfo.WMCHealth.org/Vaccination.
“COVID-19 has ravaged our most vulnerable communities, communities that were already suffering from health disparities and other social inequities. Now, these same communities face unique vaccination challenges that must be addressed in a way that is respectful, culturally intelligent, and trustworthy to ensure greater participation in the drive for vaccination,” said Mecca Mitchell, Senior Vice President, Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, WMCHealth, who is also leading HETF.
Diverse Membership for Diverse Communities
“Neighbors Link is proud to be a part of the Health Equity Task Force,” said Carola Bracco, Executive Director, Neighbors Link. “We have come to see the stark disparities in education, employment and healthcare as a result of COVID-19 and it is critical for vaccine distribution to be equitable, safe and fair, particularly for the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.”
“I am encouraged by the work of WMCHealth’s Health Equity Task Force, said Shannon Kelly, Deputy CEO, Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster. “Like Catholic Charities, WMCHealth serves a geographically and demographically diverse region, and we recognize that maintaining a focus on social equity is critical to successfully combatting the virus. It is incumbent upon us as service providers to get the information, and the vaccine, to the marginalized and under-served communities as quickly as possible.”
“The United Way of Rockland is grateful to be part of the Health Equity Task Force and thankful to WMCHealth for coordinating this group,” said Dana Treacy, LMSW, President and CEO of United Way of Rockland. “The work of this group is critical since health inequalities and racial disparities are present in our community. With all of us working together it will ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to receive trusted information and to be vaccinated.”
“As always, WMCHealth has demonstrated its commitment to serving our marginalized and underserved communities best,” said Judy Troilo, Executive Director of The LOFT LGBTQ+ Community Center. “I am honored to serve on the Health Equity Task Force to ensure equity of access to the COVID-19 vaccine, especially for our most vulnerable LGBTQ+ community members.”
“As we look toward the future of our nation, we must pay it forward in regard to COVID-19. Our next generation depends on us to pave the way for health and restoration,” said Pastor Rev. Erwin L. Trollinger, Jr., of the Calvary Baptist Church of White Plains. “The shot is necessary for the past, present and future generations. Let us walk away from the past fears and embrace this opportunity to be healed.”
“Challenges are part of life, but together challenges become opportunities to create a better united world. Working together, we will win the fight against COVID-19,” said Maria Trusa, CEO of Formé Medical Center & Urgent Care.