This post is by Michelle O’Keefe, MA, chief communications officer of association member Eskenazi Health, and Curtis Wright, MD, MBA, CEO of Eskenazi Medical Group.
Association member Eskenazi Health is committed to supporting the Indianapolis community through public education. When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, many people, specifically individuals and communities of color, were skeptical due to the rapid vaccine development, misinformation, historic injustices, and mistrust of the health care system.
To help ease fears and anxiety and to encourage acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine, Eskenazi Health quickly developed a town hall outreach program. The health system in February launched a series of virtual town halls to engage community members in conversations about the development, safety, and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States. In these sessions, Eskenazi Health physician leaders and other subject matter experts shared information on vaccine trials, updates on federal and state COVID-19 case and vaccine data, and personal stories and experiences related to the pandemic.
After conducting town halls internally with health system employees and providers, Eskenazi Health leaders reached out to numerous community partner organizations — including religious institutions, fraternity and sorority chapters, communication groups, and businesses — to offer town halls for their employees and the individuals they serve.
Acknowledging the hesitancy and mistrust about accepting a newly developed vaccine helped to make these town halls effective. With the goal of spreading facts, Eskenazi Health’s diverse group of provider panelists spent most of each highly interactive session answering questions submitted by the audience to reassure the public and dispel common myths about the vaccines. Questions and topics of concern included:
- vaccine components;
- long- and short-term effects;
- potential complications for current medical issues;
- possible current medication interactions; and
- prenatal and postnatal effects.
To date, Eskenazi Health has conducted more than 40 virtual town halls for community organizations, with plans for additional town halls throughout the spring. The town halls ranged in size from small groups of 12 to more than 2,000 people. Down-to-earth health care providers made sure not to treat anyone like their questions were unreasonable.
Something we have found beneficial as we have held these discussions has been to find out from the group what they felt their audience needed to hear to ease concerns. Whether it was focusing on the safety, addressing myths, or answering questions about what it was like treating people who had COVID-19, this helped to individualize the discussions and, in the end, made for a more robust dialogue.
The response from those who have attended the town halls has been remarkably positive. Community partners have expressed gratitude for the information and how it has helped the individuals they serve make educated decisions to be vaccinated.
How is your essential hospital building trust in the COVID-19 vaccines? Share your work at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the America’s Essential Hospitals coronavirus resource page for more information about the pandemic.