A few months into the pandemic, the medical community had gathered necessary data to show that face masks, physical distancing and handwashing were most effective in preventing transmission. We also quickly saw the pandemic exacerbate societal inequities that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minority and other vulnerable populations.
With this knowledge, our team at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center partnered with community organizations, businesses and government to tackle the public health crisis.
In just five days in May, we distributed “community care kits” to 7,500 people in vulnerable communities. Combined, the kits included 46,000 face masks, 10,000 soaps, 18,000 hand sanitizers and 12,000 dental hygiene items.
This effort serves as a blueprint for academic health centers nationwide. Our colleagues and community partners recently detailed this novel approach in the journal Population Health Management.
These outreach efforts require healthcare, business, civic and community leaders to embrace promoting public and population health. Fortunately, our community long ago embraced “The Columbus Way,” a collaborative approach to improving our city.
Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT)—itself a partnership among Ohio State University, the City of Columbus, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and Near East Side neighborhood stakeholders—along with the national African American Male Wellness Agency (AAMWA), Columbus Public Health, Ohio Department of Health Office of Health Equity, Franklin County Public Health, Columbus Police Department, Columbus City Schools and many others were primed to partner in this collaborative effort.
Together, we identified five vulnerable central Ohio communities most at risk for COVID-19. Wexner Medical Center mobilized its Community Care Coach, staffed each location with volunteers from the medical center and AAMWA, as well as local and national civic and government leaders, and distributed care kits assembled from corporate, community and government donations.
This effort demonstrates how academic health centers must forge partnerships to advance public health and reach more deeply into our communities to prevent and treat disease.
For example, we have a number of partnerships that helped to fortify our COVID-19 response:
- Early in the pandemic, we turned to our partner Battelle, a global research and development organization headquartered in Columbus, to develop a new rapid, highly sensitive diagnostic test for COVID-19 in just 24 hours.
- We have supported neighborhood-based development and health efforts, including investing more than $10 million in PACT, to address social determinants of health in the Near East Side neighborhood. PACT and its community partners’ latest efforts include supporting COVID-19 vaccination distribution in the most at-risk populations.
- We have invested in the expansion of our own neighborhood care facilities to ensure we continue to have the means to care for our communities in times of crisis, including the Ohio State College of Nursing’s Total Health and Wellness federally qualified health center, as well as a renovated and expanded outpatient surgery center, both located at our Ohio State East Hospital to reinforce our commitment to provide community care in historically underserved communities.
The pandemic has highlighted once again how critical it is that academic health centers leverage partnerships to reach populations made vulnerable through systemic and structural inequities. As part of the largest university with both a major health system and seven health science colleges on one campus, Wexner Medical Center is at the forefront of creating breakthrough solutions to improve health. But we also recognize the potential in nurturing and expanding relationships with businesses, as well as civic and community organizations that also have a vested interest in tackling our most pressing public health needs.