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The Wright Center’s successful vaccination project spotlighted at White House summit


An employee of The Wright Center for Community Health attended a summit held Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the White House complex, presenting a summary of the organization’s success in vaccinating certain vulnerable populations against COVID-19.

Melissa Bonnerwith, project manager for public health education and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Wright Center, delivered a poster presentation during the “Summit on COVID-19 Equity and What Works Showcase.”

The event was organized by The White House Office for COVID-19 Response. Participants included U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other high-ranking federal health officials.

The Wright Center was among a “select group of community organizations” invited to send a representative to the summit to “highlight evidence-based programs and initiatives that have moved the needle on equitable COVID-19 outcomes,” according to organizers.

Bonnerwith shared insights gained by The Wright Center as a result of its months-long involvement in a grant-funded Community Vaccine Ambassador Project, which was funded by the CDC. The pandemic-fighting project was conducted in partnership with the National Association of Community Health Centers and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

Only 15 health centers and organizations in the nation were selected for the Vaccine Ambassador Project. Those organizations, located in 12 states, received grant funding to focus on administering coronavirus vaccines to people in populations of special concern, including individuals with substance use disorders and individuals experiencing homelessness.

The Wright Center’s team members exceeded expectations and provided about 1,600 vaccine doses during the project period to people with substance use disorders and more than 180 doses to people experiencing homelessness.

Melissa Bonnerwith, project manager of public health education and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Wright Center, delivered the poster presentation during the “Summit on COVID-19 Equity and What Works Showcase” at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

The CDC asked Bonnerwith to co-present at this week’s summit with Kimberly Chiaramonte, a senior project officer with the Homeless Council.

Bonnerwith, who oversaw The Wright Center’s grant project, attributed its effectiveness largely to the ability of its “vaccine ambassadors” – consisting of three community health workers and three certified recovery specialists – to build rapport and trust with people in the populations of focus. In some instances, it took multiple conversations over several encounters with an individual before that person would decide to roll up a sleeve and get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The project also relied on the strategic use of The Wright Center’s mobile medical vehicle, which was deployed into the community 79 times as part of this grant initiative, Bonnerwith said. She also credited the involvement of The Wright Center’s strong community partners. Among those critical to the success of the project were the Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs for Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties; the Community Intervention Center and St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen, both in Scranton; and The Hazleton Integration Project and La Casa Dominicana, both in Hazleton.

Melissa Bonnerwith, right, project manager of public health education and AmeriCorps VISTA at The Wright Center, co-presented the research poster at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Kimberly Chiaramonte, a senior project officer with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council

The Wright Center’s patient data show higher rates of vaccination among the two populations of focus during the grant project, which incentivized participation with retail gift cards, than in the months prior to the project.

“We used targeted interventions, and ultimately saw that our rate of vaccination among people experiencing homelessness doubled and our rate among people with substance use disorder increased 34 percent,” said Bonnerwith. “That’s pretty exciting.”

Since the time COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December 2020, The Wright Center’s providers have administered more than 48,000 vaccine doses.

The Wright Center for Community Health, headquartered in Scranton, was designated in 2019 as a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike. Today, it operates a growing network of primary care practices that provide high-quality, affordable and nondiscriminatory care to patients from five counties in Northeast Pennsylvania.

It is affiliated with The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, the nation’s largest Health Resources and Services Administration-funded Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Safety Net Consortium.

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