Celebrate Paths Forward

This month, we share the latest on the county's COVID-19 vaccination progress, and welcome Francisco Lopez to our board of directors.

Dear Friends,

I was vaccinated on Saturday, and find it impossible to separate feelings of hope associated with our abundant spring blossoms and those generated by the promise of the vaccine. Sonoma County is moving to the Orange Tier. California may lift all restrictions as soon as June 15, providing vaccine supply is sufficient for all adults who wish to receive the shot and hospitalization rates remain stable and low. For all these reasons, in this issue we explore our hopes and challenges, and celebrate paths forward.

Last month, the Healthcare Foundation distributed $100,000 in unrestricted grants to local, grassroots organizations working with our most underserved community members. I invite you to check the press release for details on the grantees, many of whom are involved in the heroic vaccine effort. These grants represent our commitment to health equity through unrestricted, “trust-based” philanthropy that allows hard-working organizations to spend the money where it’s needed most. Thank you for your trust in the Healthcare Foundation to distribute our collective dollars in the most equitable manner for the greatest impact. We are in this together.

Below, you’ll find the latest on vaccine equity in Sonoma County, as well as a short interview with our fabulous new board member Francisco Lopez.

As vaccine supply begins to exceed demand in the coming weeks, the next front in the race toward herd immunity is addressing vaccine hesitancy. There are many reasons people are hesitant. As virus variants threaten our recovery, however, helping folks overcome fears associated with the vaccine is of paramount importance. Everyone is aligned on wanting safety for ourselves and our loved ones, and many wish to attend concerts and weddings, or visit places of worship. We need to weigh vaccine concerns with the reality that the coronavirus disease has killed over 550,000 Americans, so far.

To this end, the Healthcare Foundation actively supports outreach to those who need more information about the vaccine. As board member Dr. Michael Valdovinos says, “We need more boots on the ground, as in trusted, familiar community members to directly engage with community leaders–in their own languages, with sensitivity to their personal and cultural concerns.” Michael is out there every day doing this vital outreach, offering hope and relief. “Compassionate listening is what helps people make their decision,” he concludes.

To quote Dr. Brian Prystowsky, a Santa Rosa pediatrician who works with vaccine hesitancy: “I can’t tell you the RELIEF I felt after getting my coronavirus vaccine, where this bear that was chasing me for a year is finally gone. I wish that relief for all of my patients, family and community…We all want to be done with masks and when enough people get vaccinated and we reach herd immunity, we hope that will be a reality.”

With gratitude,

Kim Bender
Executive Director

Vaccine Update: April 2021

Local Organizations Push for Vaccine Equity

Four months into the nationwide march toward vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonoma County is making progress on all fronts—especially when it comes to administering the shots equitably.

The latest public data from the Sonoma County Division of Public Health indicate that more than 116,000 county residents were fully vaccinated by April 1, more than 80,000 residents were partially vaccinated by the same date, and that county healthcare workers had administered more than 300,000 vaccines overall.

Considering there are just under 500,000 people in the county, we’ll soon eclipse the 50 percent vaccination mark—a milestone on the journey to herd immunity somewhere around 75 percent.

Perhaps more impressively, more than 83 percent of residents 75 and older were fully vaccinated by April 1, meaning many of the most vulnerable members of the population are protected. What’s more, roughly 20 percent of the county’s Latinx population has been vaccinated, and a recent Press Democrat story revealed that more than 95 percent of vineyard workers have gotten at least one of their requisite shots.

These numbers are direct results of countywide efforts to get shots in arms and to emphasize equity in distribution of shots.

Office of Equity Director Alegria de la Cruz said this approach is critical.

“Although low-income communities of color have been hardest hit by COVID-19, people from wealthier and largely white communities flooded our vaccination systems,” she recently told the Sonoma West newspaper group. “The same challenges that led to those communities [of color] being at high levels of risk for COVID infection are the challenges that lead to them being at risk for not being vaccinated.”

For this reason, local healthcare organizations, including the Healthcare Foundation, are working hard to make sure people from traditionally marginalized groups are among those to receive shots.

In a March 29 communication to friends and colleagues, Alliance Medical Center CEO Joan Churchill wrote, “Priority for Alliance is our patients, and people with limited resources and race/ethnicity minorities.”

Churchill isn’t the only healthcare CEO espousing this philosophy. In the western part of the county, Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Centers, feels the same way. As of April 1, Cunningham’s organization had fully vaccinated roughly 7,000 patients—a large number considering there are only about 15,000 in the service area.

Cunningham said his group, like Alliance, has been working with Corazón Healdsburg to reach out to Spanish-speaking constituents and help them book appointments. Corazón workers also staff the West County vaccine hotlines, where they are on hand to answer questions about the vaccine and vaccination as they arise.

According to Cunningham, these conversations have been invaluable in helping West County residents overcome hesitancy about the vaccine.

“They know how to have conversations, know when people are hesitant, and know how to approach that sensitive subject,” Cunningham said, noting that he has hired the equivalent of five full-time employees from Corazón. “We literally couldn’t be doing this without them.”

Officials at Corazón recognize the importance of the service they’re providing.

Glaydon de Freitas, who took over as executive director in late 2020, said that at a time when the difference between haves and have-nots is greater than ever, it’s critical to focus on equity and make sure that everyone in the Sonoma County community has equal access to a resource that quite literally could save their lives.

“Whenever there is a scarce resource, systemic barriers and the privileges of some will mean that others are excluded,” de Freitas said. “The vaccine is a scarce resource that will keep people healthy, allow them to safely work in person, send their children back to school or hug their elderly parents. We know that COVID has disproportionately impacted certain populations. It would be unconscionable not to do everything we can to make sure this life-saving and life-changing vaccine is shared in a just and equitable manner.”

Down the road, the countywide vaccine picture is set to change dramatically. The county criteria for vaccine eligibility changed to people age 50 and older on April 1, and eligibility age will change again to include people 16 and older on April 15. As more people get vaccinated, overall numbers will grow.

The Healthcare Foundation strongly advocates for equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. We are proud to stand behind all the local FQHCs, Corazón and others in making vaccine equity a reality.

Welcome Francisco Lopez!

Francisco, you joined the Healthcare Foundation in January. What made you want to become a Board Member?

The Healthcare Foundation is making an effort to be more diverse and represent the populations that they serve, and I wanted to help out in any way I could. Personally, I want to have a direct impact in the community and this board is an amazing group to be a part of.

Which part of our mission and vision speak the most to you?

As a former teacher (of English, History, and English Learning), early childhood education is really meaningful to me. My family also owns a vineyard in Santa Rosa called Aldina Vineyards. It’s important to me that our community of vineyard workers is being served here in Sonoma County. To add to that, my wife is a mental health care provider, so providing better access to mental health is a mission that I strongly support.

How has your experience been as a Board Member so far?

I couldn’t be more excited about advocating for the Latinx community, which is historically under-represented in Sonoma County. I want to help out in any way I can to support the Healthcare Foundation, and to advocate for all underserved communities. I’m honored to be a part of it.

Francisco, his sister Monica, and their parents Al and Dina Lopez are opening Bacchus Landing this summer. It’s an amazingly beautiful property just outside downtown Healdsburg on Westside Road. Click here for more information on the Lopez Family story.

Exciting Details to be announced soon!

Become a Healthcare Hero today!

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