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Mercy College Named As Partner In Federal Grant To Extend Vaccinations Into Westchester’s Poorer Communities

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July 27, 2021

By Barrett Seaman–

When the Westchester County Department of Health (WCHD) pulled together a team to go into some of the county’s underserved—and under-vaccinated—communities in an effort to get more people protected from COVID-19, they turned to Dobbs Ferry’s Mercy College as a partner in the effort.

This week, County Executive George Latimer announced that the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded WCHD a two-year, $3.76 million grant to send teams into parts of New Rochelle Mount Vernon, Ossining, Peekskill, Port Chester, White Plains and Yonkers to identify the unvaccinated as well as the barriers to vaccine acceptance and work to improve protection.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with our trusted community partners to improve health equity in Westchester,” said Dr. Sherlita Amler, the county’s Health Commissioner. “With this grant, we plan to make a difference by improving COVID-19 health outcomes for residents who are sometimes left behind. This grant will help us better serve people of color, those living in poverty and people with limited English language proficiency.”

Working with local faith-based and other community leaders, the county team aims to recruit 160 “trusted community members” who will use whatever strategies are at their disposal to break through the hesitancy and misinformation to get shots in arms.

Where Mercy fits in will be in developing those strategies, evaluating the work done in the field, collecting data and recommending whatever mid-course corrections they feel are warranted. They bring expertise not only in nursing and in public health strategies to the program but also their experience in working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We are a minority-serving institution,” said Dr. Adrienne Wald, associate professor of Nursing in the School of Natural and Health Sciences. She will be working with colleagues Dr. Marc Campo from Physical Therapy and Dr. Charis Davidson from Health Sciences as well as both graduates and undergraduates in their programs. “The College and the faculty participants share the Westchester County Health Department’s commitment to and goal of improving health literacy,” said Miriam Ford, Associate Dean of Nursing at Mercy.

Dr. Wald said the Mercy team is excited to be working with Dr. Diall Hewlett, the principal investigator for the WCHD to craft best practices designed to reach deep into these communities as well as into the county’s jails. “It’s also exciting that we’ll be working with the Department of Corrections,” said Dr. Wald, who has been in the public health field for over 40 years.

The timeline for the project “is still being developed,” said Dr. Wald. “We’re anticipating starting training in the early fall—maybe sooner.” Given the pace of the spread of the Delta variant in Westchester as in the world, it can’t be soon enough.

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