Every week, more than 2,500 families in South Los Angeles head to their local Boys & Girls Club to pick up a box full of healthy meals. There, they connect with Club staff, who do more than distribute food and check in on each families’ wellbeing. Families also receive information about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and how they can get one through their Club — critical work the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Los Angeles has spearheaded in partnership with MLK Community Healthcare (MLKCH)
and other local organizations.
Education and outreach is critical in South LA, an area that has been described as a healthcare desert. Because the majority of residents are on Medi-Cal, California’s version of Medicaid, there is a shortage of high-quality care. Medi-Cal pays providers a fraction of what Medicare and commercial insurance pays; unsurprisingly few doctors can afford to work here.
The doctor deficit has resulted in some of the worst health outcomes in the state along with a general lack of health literacy. Those factors made South LA particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, a disease that preys on people with pre-existing conditions.
At the same time, many residents of South LA have a well-founded historic distrust of medicine, related to past and current mistreatment. The result is a community that has been devastated by Covid and yet remains fearful of the vaccine. Education and trust are critical to the success of any Covid-19 vaccine outreach efforts.
It’s why MLKCH and the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Los Angeles are working together to build confidence in, and use of, the Covid-19 vaccines.
MLK Community Healthcare was created to right the wrongs done to this community. The new health system, which includes the award-winning MLK Community Hospital, is dedicated to providing a full spectrum of health services, including preventive care and disease management necessary to stem South LA’s epidemic of chronic illness.
Health education through trusted community partners is a key ingredient to MLKCH’s effectiveness. Organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles use their credibility and long-standing presence in the community to build confidence in health services, including the Covid vaccines.
“That’s where we knew we could play a role,” said Patrick Mahoney, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles, “People trust us because of the impact we’ve had on the community. They know we’re here to help.”
Covid vaccine outreach enabled both organizations to amplify their reach and value to the community. Through a partner network built up over the years, the Club is able to reach tens of thousands of families with education about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy. With popular meals as an established touchpoint, the Club trained employees to talk about resources for vaccine education and answer questions. They distributed an informational flyer on the vaccines created by MLKCH, sent regular community newsletters to parents, and partnered with other local organizations to spread information beyond the Boys & Girls Club community.
“We have the reach,’” said Mahoney on working with the community hospital, “and MLKCH has the expertise and the vaccines. Together, we’re an effective voice for vaccine acceptance in a very scared and vulnerable community.”
The Club helps with vaccine registration by providing a link each week to schedule appointments at both the Jordan Downs and the Watts Willow Brook clinics. Regularly the appointments have been fully booked.
Boys & Girls Club staff have also volunteered at a housing complex, Jordan Downs, helping with check-in and second-dose appointment scheduling.
The Club also partnered with Cedars-Sinai and MLKCH to offer Covid vaccines on a re-occurring basis at their Watts-Willowbrook Club location.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles knows that COVID-19 is going to have a lasting effect on how they approach their work. “Our team has really invested in showing up in whatever way the community needs us,” said Mahoney. Tapping into the best people, elevating voices from within the community to help drive direction and opening their doors to be the center hub are all learnings the Club will take with them into a post-pandemic world, all toward our mission to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.
As the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles heads into the summer, they are thinking about the entirety of the impact COVID-19 has had on the kids they serve: “How do we keep them engaged?” said Patrick, “How do we assess what truly has been missed? How do we make sure they have fun? I think we have an opportunity and an obligation to do that.”