Mass General Brigham has launched a mobile health initiative to leverage the knowledge of its world class providers and researchers to help answer people’s questions and boost confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines.
“With the information about COVID-19, the vaccines, and public health measures changing day to day, it’s understandable that people feel conflicted about how to keep up with the information and where they should go for trusted answers,” says Tom Sequist, MD, MPH. Dr. Sequist is the Chief Patient Experience and Equity Officer at Mass General Brigham. “The lightning fast speed of social media can be invaluable to get a message out quickly, but can also enable the spread of inaccurate information.”
Nearly 120 physicians, nurses, researchers, and other experts from across Mass General Brigham have come together to volunteer their expertise in a variety of ways. These “Community Messengers” are reaching people in the community—both in-person and digitally—by making informational videos in a variety of languages; hosting “live” social media sessions to answer patient questions; and offering their time at public speaking engagements or on other media like podcasts and radio.
The goal is to connect with communities hard hit by the pandemic—which are overwhelmingly communities of color with a historical mistrust of the health care industry. The Mass General Brigham community messengers are multi-lingual and multi-cultural, with many having shared life experience with the people in the communities we serve.
“When I’m with my patients I can answer their questions face to face,” says Cheryl R. Clark MD, ScD, who recently volunteered as a community messenger at the Reggie Lewis Center. Dr. Clark is a Hospitalist and researcher in Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of General Medicine and Primary Care, and Director of Health Equity Research & Intervention in the Center for Community Health and Health Equity at Brigham.
Dr. Clark explains, “We’re taking that trusted relationship and amplifying it to a larger scale to reach more people who have questions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine.”
Additionally, these community messengers have played a crucial role in our Community Care Van initiative. While there is a van dedicated solely to information sharing, many volunteers accompany vans handing out resources like food or care kits, or our mobile testing vans.
The vans will be located alongside other community resources such as food pantries.
While partnering with community organizations has helped reach more people, it hasn’t opened every barrier to community access. One hurdle that medical staff have had to grapple with is the mistrust of the communities they are trying to reach.
“It’s no surprise that people of color and those in marginalized communities want and need information that they can understand, in their language, from caregivers who look like them,” says Joseph Betancourt, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President of Equity and Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital.
He explains that the health care system has a difficult history that providers are working to counteract. The Tuskegee study and Henrietta Lacks are just two historical examples. And while this lack of confidence is real and well-earned, communities of color aren’t the only ones who are hesitant about the vaccine.
“Many really want it, and we need to make sure vaccines are available to them in their communities, and easily accessible, as we answer their questions and gain their trust,” he says.
The vans have been stationed in communities hardest hit by COVID such as Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Charlestown, Lynn, Roxbury and Dorchester, with other communities as needed. The hope is that these vans will become a valuable health care resource for local communities during the pandemic and beyond.