CalOptima Reaches Community With Vaccines and Resources
By Dianne Anderson
Now that half of all Americans have figured out that the COVID-19 vaccine is not so scary after all, some health systems are stepping up the pace by doing whatever it takes to get the community in for the shot.
For CalOptima, that means up to $50 in gift cards for their members willing to roll up their sleeves twice.
As part of their motivation strategy to deal with vaccine hesitancy, the CalOptima board approved over $36 million to pay for their $25 gift cards per vaccination, called member health rewards.
“It was such a high priority for us. We provide incentives based on data from the state, and there is a slight lag in getting the gift cards out,” said Marie Jeannis, Executive Director of Quality & Population Health Management at CalOptima.
She is encouraging all their members to come out and bring their family to access services at upcoming clinics, with a one stop shop to access other vital services countywide. On May 15 and 22, and again on June 5 and 12, members will link up with many social services, including CalFresh, 211OC, and opportunities for counseling.
CalOptima is Orange County’s Medi-Cal provider, serving over 750,000 low-income members.
Jeannis, who is also a nurse, said their primary outreach goal is raising awareness and improve member engagement through direct phone calls and reaching their most vulnerable seniors, age 65 and older.
As of May 4, she said they had vaccinated 198,000 members ages 16 and older of their 576,000 eligible members. So far, about 34% of total eligible members have been vaccinated.
They are continuing to combat vaccine hesitancy.
“To me, I would like to see a higher percentage of all our population, all of our California members, but 34% is a pretty good number. We are working to improve that number on a daily basis,” she said.
The goal is to protect the most vulnerable, especially those with chronic conditions.
“The CDC came out with recommendations for those with chronic conditions, people of color, those of our members of color have higher hospitalizations, and our members who are experiencing homelessness. We definitely see the categories of the most vulnerable here at CalOptima,” she said.
The vaccine was released to age 16 and above starting April 15. Their members 65 and older accessed the earlier tier and are now vaccinated at about 63%. As vaccines open up more broad scale, they hope to reach all their members with increased vaccinations.
In March, CalOptima PACE Center (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) in Garden Grove held vaccine clinics, and those with chronic medical conditions were able to receive comprehensive care.
From the start, Jeannis said that getting resources to the homeless has been their priority.
“Our interventions include collaborating with our community clinics, which work directly with the shelters. They were able to vaccinate everyone at the shelters, we collaborate closely and were able to motivate the homeless,” Jeannis said.
Through an extensive awareness campaign, they are hitting the billboards, print media, and in homeless shelters. They connect with community members through social media, emails and texting.
“Our message is first vaccinate to protect yourself, vaccinate to protect your family members and vaccinate to protect your community so we can get back to a safe and normal life,” she said.
CalOptima has also engaged community leaders to create messenger videos on YouTube, including a plea for the community to get vaccinated with Pastor Ivan Pitts from Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana.
In a recent statement of solidarity, Black pastors including Pastor Pitts, Friendship Baptist Church, New Hope Presbyterian Church, Johnson Chapel AME Church and Christ Our Redeemer AME Church all stressed that more effort is needed to reach the vulnerable Black community.
Their letter stated that as of February, one in 645 Black Americans had died from COVID-19, according to APM Research Labs, with Blacks representing the second highest death rate, surpassed only by Indigenous Americans.
The pastors said the churches are united to help bring healthy equity and justice to the Black community.
“Now that COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more available we must address two issues: hesitancy and accessibility. We are united in boldly facing these issues by facilitating crucial conversations about vaccine safety and by partnering with each other and with health care organizations to increase access to the vaccine,” they said.