Direct Relief and The Pfizer Foundation Support 11 New Programs to Improve Infectious Disease Care in the U.S.


Community Health

Photo: Bernardo Barrios / Lawndale Christian Health Centers in Chicago, IL
Photo: Bernardo Barrios / Lawndale Christian Health Centers in Chicago, IL

Direct Relief today announced the recipients of its Innovation Awards in Community Health: Addressing Infectious Disease in Underserved Communities. Grants totaling $2.5 million will go to 11 U.S. safety-net community healthcare providers to support innovative approaches to infectious disease education, screening, testing, treatment, and care.

The recipient programs span 10 U.S. states and are a mix of urban and rural initiatives that will work to create greater health equity among the country’s most vulnerable communities. The awards program is implemented by Direct Relief and is funded by The Pfizer Foundation.

The community health centers and free clinics will undertake program approaches including:

  • Mobile vans and pop-up clinics to improve patient access and reduce barriers to care
  • Telehealth and health technology to improve patient care and safety
  • Community partnerships to expand reach and strengthen trust within target populations
  • Outreach and education to address stigma and misperceptions
  • New uses of electronic health records to standardize clinical care and track progress
  • Use of community leaders to build trust and promote healthcare activities

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing systemic health inequities, resulting in vulnerable patients and their loved ones experiencing even greater hardship,” said Caroline Roan, President, The Pfizer Foundation and Chief Sustainability Officer, Pfizer Inc. “We are proud to support Direct Relief and its network of frontline safety-net clinics across the U.S. to break down barriers to good health in underserved communities and increase access to life-saving infectious disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.”

“These awards are intended in part to allow providers to test and improve new care models and solutions, which is of utmost importance as healthcare is drastically changing due to COVID-19,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief President and CEO. “We are humbled by the dedication of these largely unheralded safety-net health providers to improve the lives and health of the people they care for.”

Some of the recipient providers reflect a wider trend among health clinics—ramping up vaccination campaigns against common inflections like seasonal flu that can help to strengthen future vaccine delivery, including potential COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. Others include innovative ways of reaching more marginalized and vulnerable patients.

The Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas serves a population whose immunization rates for children and adults have historically fallen far below the state average, with only half of eligible adults vaccinated against pneumonia and less than 40% receiving annual flu shots. The center has proposed an ambitious initiative to help control infectious disease throughout 10 southeast Kansas counties. The plan includes an outreach team to provide immunizations at area companies, mental health centers, churches, shelters and jails, as well as a redesign of its service delivery model to “triage” every adult patient for gaps in protection against infectious disease and make the appropriate vaccine(s) available at no out-of- pocket expense. At the same time, this effort will create the infrastructure for a COVID-19 immunization campaign once a vaccine is available.

Harbor Health Services in Mattapan, Mass., proposed a program aimed at keeping vulnerable elderly patients out of hospital emergency rooms, reducing their risk of exposure to the coronavirus that is especially dangerous to the elderly. The initiative will provide preventive and emergency care to participants in their homes. Harbor Health’s patient data shows that 50% of hospital emergency room visits were preventable and avoidable; the two most common reasons for ER visits included urinary tract infections and unspecified dementia, both of which can be treated in the patient’s home.

In Chicago, Esperanza Health Centers has introduced its Comprehensive Southwest Side HIV Services Program, providing bilingual and bicultural HIV education, prevention, screening and care in Chicago’s Southwest Side Latinx communities. Within two years, it aims to double the number of individuals receiving HIV primary care and pre-exposure prophylaxis at its clinics, and increase the proportion of patients screened for HIV to 90%.

In Palm Springs, Calif., the Desert AIDS Project aims to reduce the rapidly rising incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), in particular syphilis, in the region it serves. The program will increase STI testing, treatment, education and risk-reduction counseling, both through on-site treatment in its clinic and through its mobile testing unit, reaching patients that may not otherwise come to the clinic.

Direct Relief managed the application and selection process, in consultation with a panel of infectious disease physicians who provided a clinical review.

2020 Award Recipients

  • Cherokee Health Systems, Knoxville, TN
  • Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc., Douglas, AZ
  • Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Pittsburg, KS
  • Desert AIDS Project, Palm Springs, CA
  • Esperanza Health Centers, Chicago, IL
  • Grace Medical Home, Orlando, FL
  • Harbor Health Services Inc., Mattapan, MA
  • Lawndale Christian Health Center, Chicago, IL
  • Public Health Management Corporation, Philadelphia, PA
  • Westside Family Healthcare, Wilmington, DE
  • Zufall Health Center, Dover, NJ

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