Headshot of Burgess Harrison
Burgess Harrison

As our nation continues in its battle against COVID-19, the tremendous impact that home health agencies and their dedicated workforce are having cannot be understated.

Frontline home health workers are the trusted voices within our communities. These individuals are often the best on-the-ground messengers to deliver educational outreach and assistance to those that are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. This is especially true within the many medically underserved neighborhoods throughout our country.

To help address these health and vaccine inequities, the National Minority Health Association (NMHA) was awarded an $11.1 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to develop what has become known as the Flex for Checks program. This program was created specifically to mobilize and incentivize home care workers.

The grant is part of the approximately $125 million available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) American Rescue Plan to develop and support a community-based workforce to share information about COVID-19 vaccines, increase vaccine confidence and address barriers to vaccination.

I am very pleased to report that as of Sept. 30 the Flex for Checks program has experienced a very successful initial launch, with more than 1,400 home care and home health agencies currently participating. This participation equates to an employee reach of over 400,000 in over 30 states.

While these figures are very impactful, I believe as an industry even more can and should be done.

Recent studies and media headlines reiterate that vaccine hesitancy remains a crucial challenge and obstacle. COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy threatens our country’s pandemic control efforts. A recent survey of adults 18-64 indicates that while there is a prevalence of reasons for hesitancy, concerns about side effects and a general distrust of the government were noted. The survey also found that messaging about vaccine safety and addressing trust issues are paramount.

This is where I am asking the industry for even greater support. If your health agency is not yet participating in the Flex for Checks program, please reach out to the NMHA for additional information. The trust that your patients put in your hands is invaluable. If your agency is registered to participate, but is not yet seeing momentum from your teams, reach out to us and see how we can help motivate them.

We are grateful to the many agencies that have already signed on to help us in this fight. Major home health players such as Addus HomeCare, AccentCare, Right at Home and Elara Caring are already lending their resources and talents to the program, along with national trade groups such as the Home Care Association of America and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice.

These are just a few of the well-known organizations that have taken on a leadership role and answered our call for help. To round out this industry support, TV personality and physician Dr. Ian Smith currently serves as the program’s physician spokesperson, lending his credibility to discuss the need for vaccinations as well as debunk ongoing misinformation and myths regarding the vaccines.

Going forward, we have very ambitious goals ahead for the Flex for Checks program and are hopeful to achieve thousands of additional vaccinations in the months ahead. In addition, we are preparing to launch an innovative COVID 19 assessment tool that will help at-risk populations better determine their individual risk for sickness or potential death. This tool will also be able to help home health organizations, and others, project employee sick days and the potential impact on their workforce.

Finally, I would like to again stress that we cannot do this alone. Even though nearly 700,000 American citizens have died from COVID-19, sadly vaccine hesitancy still exists throughout our country. Home health and homecare organizations have continually risen to the challenge since the pandemic began and I am confident that the future will bring even more support and compassion to those in our communities that need it the most.

Burgess Harrison, MBA, is the executive director of the National Minority Health Association.

This article originally appeared on McKnight's Senior Living