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While the coronavirus has been devastating for many North Carolinians, underserved communities across the state are feeling an outsized impact from the outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities in access to care and health outcomes across North Carolina and nationwide.
Thanks to the leadership of Population Health Services Manager Randi Towns and her UNC Health Alliance team, in conjunction with support from UNC Physicians Network support, UNC School of Medicine Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UNC Center for Health Equity Research and UNC Health Marketing and Communications, Carolina is meeting underserved populations where they are with much-needed care.
With an initial investment from UNC Health Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the team deployed a UNC Health mobile clinic on May 7 at Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh. The clinic is designed to provide COVID testing, education and support services for underrepresented communities with historically limited access to care.
“We started this project as a community engagement effort to address disparities in health outcomes,” Towns said. “We see that COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting minorities, particularly African American and Latinx community members, so as a health care system we decided to deploy mobile testing to their communities.”
The investment from UNC Health Foundation has covered the cost of the testing, allowing the mobile clinic to provide services at no cost to patients. As of June 18, the clinic has tested 1,306 patients for COVID-19, 185 (14%) of whom tested positive. More than 80% of the positive cases have been seen since June 9, with 62% of those documenting Spanish as their preferred language.
“Within two weeks of its conception, the mobile clinic was launched and out rendering care to patients,” said Stephanie Turner, interim vice president for population health services for UNC Health Alliance. “Randi and her team were able to identify critical needs through population health data and community leaders, and the entire operation is incredibly well-managed.”
The mobile clinic aims to break down barriers to health care access by holding sessions in convenient locations throughout the community – eliminating the need to travel long distances or find transportation to seek necessary health care. Towns and her team partner closely with local community leaders to determine the most convenient hours and locations that would be ideal to set up the clinic.
“To really engage our target population, we have to connect with the community on a deeper level by forming relationships with those that they know and trust,” Towns said. “We depend on these community leaders to promote our services and reach those who need it the most. We often see that many in these communities don’t interact with health care systems because of mistrust and inequity. We may be many of these people’s first touchpoint with health care and we have to really value that. We have to do our due service and say, ‘You’re so much more than a patient – you’re a person. And we’re going to treat you like a person.’”