Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center brings equity and fair access to the COVID-19 vaccine

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that serves the members of Washington and Yamhill counties through access to high quality, culturally appropriate health care. For more than 46 years Virginia Garcia has offered care to those most vulnerable in their communities. 

When COVID-19 began to affect people in Oregon, Virginia Garcia immediately began to see the impact it was having on the communities they served. In addition to providing testing in the clinics, they began taking services into the community, eventually creating a response team dedicated solely to outreach events. Virginia Garcia was the first community health center in the state to begin offering drive through testing services at the Hillsboro Stadium – increasing accessibility for their patients and the community at large. 

Over the summer, with an awareness that Black, Indigenous and People of Color were impacted by COVID-19 at a higher rate than others, the newly formed Covid Response (CoRe) Team began partnering with other community-based organizations that served these groups to hold 15 different community events between June and November. Ultimately, more than 2,000 people were screened at these events.  

Virginia Garcia also provided testing resources like educational handouts, informational videos and television commercials about how to stay safe during the holiday season focused on the communities they serve.  

Once the vaccine became available, the CoRe Team added vaccination events to their toolkit. Currently the team splits their time focusing on ensuring equitable access of testing and vaccinations by providing both free testing services at the Hillsboro Clinic location to anyone in the community and vaccine events targeted at providing the vaccine to individuals who would otherwise not have access. 

Worker after being vaccinated at mobile clinic.

“Our patients were the hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Misty Downey, CoRe Team program manager. “The work that the CoRe Team does each week is critical to ensuring the most vulnerable populations have access to the vaccine.”   

Last Tuesday, Virginia Garcia had their first mobile clinic vaccination event of the season where, with the help of volunteers, vaccinated almost 300 people. These mobile vaccination clinics will be offered every Tuesday to vulnerable populations like migrant and seasonal farmworkers who would otherwise have difficulty getting to a vaccination clinic. Virginia Garcia’s goal is to provide 30,000 vaccinations in 12 weeks. 

On April 13, they vaccinated another 104 individuals, even after having to change out their vaccine from Johnson & Johnson to Moderna at the last minute. The need to schedule and provide second shots will be an added challenge, but they are actively working to make arrangements with the camps and nurseries to get those second clinics scheduled.  

Staying true to their commitment to the community, Virginia Garcia is working to bring equity and fair access to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

This article first appeared in the April 21, 2021 issue of Oregon Coronavirus Update.