RWJ Somerset partnering with local groups to expand vaccine access to Black, brown communities

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset — trying to turn around statistics that show Black and brown communities are getting vaccinated at slower rates than the general population — is partnering with local organizations to reach out to members of these vulnerable communities and increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

CEO Tony Cava said the need is urgent.

“We recognize that members of the Black and brown community are at higher risk for getting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill,” he said. “Many are essential workers and take public transportation and face barriers like language and lack of insurance in getting the health care they need.

“We want to make sure that they have equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves and their families.”

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, just 6% of those vaccinated in New Jersey are Black — even though approximately 12% of the state’s population is Black. More so, Black residents represent 16% of the COVID-19 deaths.

Similarly, just 10% of those vaccinated statewide to date are Hispanic, even though Hispanics make up 21% of the state’s population and account for25% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and 19% of the COVID-19 deaths.

In comparison, 56% of New Jersey residents vaccinated are white. Making up 54% of the state’s population, they represent 41% of COVID-19 cases and 56% of COVID-19 deaths.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset’s vaccination campaign is an outgrowth of outreach efforts the hospital began last spring after seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases among members of the Black and brown community.

Through events held in collaboration with local schools, churches, food banks, health departments and municipalities, the hospital’s Community Health and Diversity & Inclusion departments, SALUD Business Resource Group and Black Professionals Network have distributed more than 30,000 masks, 9,400 hand sanitizers and 5,700 soaps, as well as Spanish-language educational materials. Personal protective equipment kits were distributed to support 34 local businesses owned by members of the Black and brown community who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hospital also formed a Latino Advisory Council last summer, with about 20 representatives from local government, businesses and organizations serving the Latino community to further expand its community outreach efforts.

As a result of input from the group, the hospital launched a new online health education series in Spanish for members of the Latino community, including webinars on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine. The hospital also participated in a webinar in March on vaccine hesitancy in the Black community, sponsored by the RWJBarnabas Health Southern Region hospitals.

In addition, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset partnered with the Downtown Somerville Alliance on a promotional campaign to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, which included a Spanish-language video that was posted on social media and local cable channels.

For more information about the hospital’s programs and services for the Latino community, click here. For more information on COVID-19, including Spanish-language educational materials, click here.