Community Spotlight: Helping to stop COVID-19 in its tracks in underserved communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on the health disparities that can exist but also, the community work that helps to find solutions. One example of this is the intersection of public health and faith-based organizations, both working together to address gaps in care.

Dr. Melissa Clarke is the medical advisor for the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities, a consortium of faith-based organizations, public health entities and medical professionals that uses a holistic, multifaceted approach to address these health needs in and around Washington D.C. She’s been part of an initiative called Stop COVID DC that’s making health care more accessible in the Washington D.C. metro area with testing – and much more.

person in gloves holding a COVID-19 test vial

“Unfortunately, a lot of times because of historic injustices and mistreatment that a lot of people of color experience when they show up for services — either being overlooked, ignored or having their symptoms downplayed — it’s left a deep chasm in terms of communities of color trusting the medical establishment,” Dr. Clarke said. “So that’s where community-based organizations and faith-based organizations can step into that space, to bridge and heal that gap."

Black communities have been hit hard by COVID-19, revealing deep disparities. Blacks make up about 46% of the District of Columbia’s population, yet account for 75% of all deaths from the virus.

With the support of a $300,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare, the goal of Stop COVID is to engage multiple community partners to provide free COVID-19 testing, food boxes, plus health and safety kits — accessible from local Black churches like the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church. The church proved to be an ideal place as a testing site, not only for its close proximity to a bus line, but because of the trust and compassionate bond between the community and its faith leaders.

“I think it’s important not to underestimate the need for credible, trusted messengers when doing any health intervention in the community,” Dr. Clarke said. “Because anything to do with people’s health entails their trust. And when you have trust, you have engagement and people will be more likely to show up for the services being offered.”

Stop COVID in the Washington, D.C. area is a collaboration between:

By investing in all aspects of the pandemic’s effect – through needed testing, food donations and resources for social services — collaborations with trusted organizations may help improve outcomes on these underserved communities.

Sullivan Robinson, executive director for the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities, said that in each case, the pastoral leaders were involved in the process becoming spokespersons of the event — and even being tested themselves.

“And the community was able to see that and embrace that,” she said. “It’s still very important for our outreach that it’s coming from a place of trust and familiarity, a place where you can talk about your hesitations, and then work through those anxieties, and come to a better place.”

Community Spotlight is an effort to shine a light on local organizations across the country that are committed to helping people live healthier lives.