PCC and Partners Battle COVID-19, Bridge Equity Gaps

By Amy Bader, PCC

Oregon healthcare providers and partners successfully vaccinated more than 80 percent of the state’s total population in less than a year, a milestone that has proven to significantly reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on Oregon residents.  

Portland Community College (PCC), in partnership with a number of dedicated community organizations, agencies and healthcare institutions, contributed more than 7,500 vaccinations to these efforts – with a specific focus on helping to bridge equity gaps. For instance, clinics hosted by PCC’s Southeast Campus served more than 600 community members on a given day. Other clinics were hosted at the college’s Willow Creek Center in Washington County and at the Cascade Campus in North Portland. PCC even coordinated a testing site at Cascade with Multnomah County.

Many of the systemic inequities within the healthcare system were highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic, leading to lower vaccination rates, disproportionate hospitalizations and deaths and a greater financial burden for marginalized communities. This recognition prompted discussions about how PCC could help.  

Together, with input from a range of stakeholders, including the college’s ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Program, a team of college staff explored how PCC could play a role in supporting equitable access to vaccines and educational materials for students and the community at large.

“Our team saw a clear opportunity to leverage PCC as a trusted name in the community and to form strategic partnerships with community-based organizations and medical institutions – each leaning into their strengths and resources to have a greater impact,” said Tricia Brand, former director of equity and inclusion at PCC.

Partners included Multnomah County’s REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) Program, OHSU (Oregon Health and Science University), Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Medical Teams International.

“We move at the speed of mutual trust,” said Dr. Donn Spight, who is a professor of surgery and co-leads OHSU’s Vaccine Equity Committee. “I want to see accurate information put in a space where a person can make an informed decision.”

Collectively, PCC and partners were able to take a strategic approach. Clinic organizers targeted PCC campus and center locations near communities more adversely affected by the coronavirus and that had lower vaccination rates.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic spread globally, it became evident a collective response would be necessary to respond to the rising cases in our community, including greater involvement of culturally specific organizations and institutions of higher learning,” said REACH Program Manager Charlene Addy McGee. “Partnerships like the one forged with PCC led to pivotal community mobilization efforts in managing the pandemic and addressing equity gaps.”

PCC worked with community organizations such as Centro Cultural and APANO (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) and a network of agencies serving culturally specific communities. They identified the importance of co-locating resources and materials at the clinics to engage the communities they serve and to create welcoming spaces. 

Oregon Chinese Coalition President Hongcheng Zhao attended each of the Southeast Campus vaccine clinics to provide free rental assistance, interpretation support and outreach to the Chinese American communities of Portland.

“While the pandemic did turn our lives upside down, it brought us together and opened the door for future collaborations with institutions like PCC and other organizations in the post-pandemic recovery,” Zhao said.

The vaccine clinics featured multilingual resources and interpretation services, as well as incentives to offset any financial burdens associated with obtaining the vaccine. Other partners included Centro Cultural, Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, Hmong American Community of Oregon, Future Generations Collaborative, Medical Teams International, TriMet and Washington County.

“It was a great experience, and a reminder of what it means when PCC says ‘community’ is our middle name,” said Kien Truong, executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander Community Coalition of Oregon and former PCC student board trustee.

Photo by Amy Bader

PCC and Partners Battle COVID-19, Bridge Equity Gaps

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