Working with Diverse Partners Is Key to SSM Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

Serving communities in the states of Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, SSM Health is focusing efforts on reaching people who still have not received the COVID-19 vaccine. The health system’s comprehensive approach includes listening to and addressing people’s concerns about vaccination and working with community partners to build trust and ensure easy access to the vaccine.

SSM Health clinicians and staff are using a variety of approaches in multiple locations. All of this work is becoming increasingly important as the delta variant creates surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in some areas of the U.S.

In Madison, Wis., SSM teams have partnered with the Sable Flames, an organization of African-American firefighters in the county, the Urban League of Greater Madison, churches and other local organizations to make the COVID-19 more accessible to communities of color. The firefighters volunteered to help administer the vaccines at the Urban League offices.

Firefighter Brandon Jones explained why he volunteered to help, in an interview with WISC-TV and Channel3000 news: “I think it’s imperative now more than ever to go ahead and protect yourself and get that vaccine. … It’s really good to come down here and be an advocate that looks like the demographic that’s coming in here — and advocate for this vaccine. … It can help save lives.”

In Missouri, as of late June, the percentage of people fully vaccinated was 39%, well under the national average of 47%. Kenneth Haller, M.D., a pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, shared tips for encouraging people to get vaccinated, in an interview on St. Louis Public Radio. Haller explained the importance of listening to people’s doubts and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, validating their feelings and emotion, and asking questions. “I think by just letting ourselves be vulnerable and generous to other people, that can open a space for them to do the same for us.” He added: “My task in my office is to say, ‘Tell me exactly what your thought is: What are you afraid of? What are the things you’ve heard?’ Because then I can say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that too. And yes, I’ve heard it’s very scary.’ … If we can be vulnerable in presenting that message, then that allows people to be vulnerable and say, ‘OK, maybe I can take the chance of doing this [and get the vaccine].’”

The SSM Health website provides useful information and resources, including COVID-19 vaccine FAQs, blogs and a “Peace in the Pandemic” video series on such topics as meditation, mindful eating, self-care through art and music therapy, and more.