CareFirst Blue Cross BlueShield will contribute $200,000 to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) around the District of Columbia to support current efforts and provide resources surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

As statistics, data and research has shown, the coronavirus pandemic has uncovered alarming racial health disparities.

In an effort to combat many of these long-standing issues, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield will contribute $200,000 to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in the District of Columbia, announced the company on May 3.

The grants will be distributed to eight FQHCs, community-based medical facilities that meet a certain set of criteria to be designated as such, located throughout the city. Furthermore, all of the FQHCs are in communities that are predominantly Black, Latinx or immigrant (Ethiopian, Central American, etc) and are on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

FQHCs provide critically important clinical and social needs to underserved communities, providing a variety of essential needs, including outpatient services, medical services and employment opportunities, while addressing social needs such as food insecurity.

As part of CareFirst’s philanthropic “Better Together” COVD-19 vaccination adoption campaign (established this past February), the grant funding will support the FQHCs in administering COVID-19 vaccines, help with vaccine administration staffing, distribution of personal protective equipment and refrigeration units for vaccine storage among other vaccine-related demands and tasks. 

The eight recipient FQHCs, most of which are in Wards 7 and 8, are Unity Health Care, Mary’s Center, Community of Hope, Bread for the City, Elaine Ellis, La Clínica del Pueblo, Family and Medical Counseling Services and Whitman Walker.

These medical facilities, according to CareFirst Vice President of Community Health and Social Impact Destiny-Simone Ramjohn, primarily serve geographically isolated or economically and medically vulnerable populations.

“They really are, I think, the backbone in some ways of the healthcare social and clinical safety net, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to support them,” said Ramjohn, a public health sociologist.  “Issues around health equity and closing gaps in health disparities have been a part of my career for as long as I can remember.”

As vice president of community health and social impact, Ramjohn said she takes pride in leading the company’s mission-driven imperative to address the social determinants of health and achieve health equity through a range of strategic activities and partnerships with local organizations and agencies.

CareFirst’s partnerships with the D.C. Department of Health, Children’s National Hospital and others are designed to address and eliminate racial health disparities, she added.

Each of the eight FQHCs administer COVID-19 testing, care and vaccinations, which was the driving factor behind CareFirst’s decision to offer grant monies to the designated health providers.

“We know that disproportionate impact is experienced by racial ethnic minorities, but also those that are at the lower rung of the economic ladder,” Ramjohn said.

“When we heard from our community partners, the need was, ‘Our residents want to access the vaccine in a safe, trusted and dignified environment. Can you help us?,’ and we were proud to respond to the need.”

Flora Terrell Hamilton, CEO of Family and Medical Counseling Service (FMCS), said she was recently informed on May 10 that the medical center was a recipient of a CareFirst grant.

The medical center will receive 15 boxes of personal protective equipment according to Hamilton. Out of $200,000 in total grants, FCMS will be awarded $15,000 to fund its ongoing efforts of extending a comprehensive range of services to the most disadvantaged communities of D.C. 

“Every little bit helps, particularly during this time” Hamilton said. 

“I believe that what we’re planning to do with our monies is increase our advertising to the community to encourage people to get vaccinated, because there is a lot of hesitancy out there.”

FCMS, a multi-faceted healthcare service provider located on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast, D.C. specializes in behavioral and mental health services, substance abuse treatment, case management and a number of support services while housing a food bank.

Hamilton said FCMS will also use some of the grant money to purchase face masks with messaging encouraging local residents to get vaccinated. With moderate to high levels of hesitancy among Black community members toward the vaccine, Hamilton noted, she sees this as an opportunity to convince them otherwise. 

“Having resources to motivate people to get the vaccine… is a significant contribution to the community to at least address some of the health inequities that exist in the African American community.”