The City of Newburgh Human Rights Commission met at the end of March for a community conversation with elected officials to discuss the response in the community in regards to the COVID-19 vaccination and the barriers that community members might face. Exactly a week later, the City of Newburgh announced that they will be offering free transportation services to COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
The meeting, led by chairperson Genesis Ramos, had in attendance Mayor Torrance Harvey, Orange County Legislator Kevindaryán Luján, councilwoman Ramona Monteverde, and representatives from Cornerstone Family Healthcare, among others from both the city and county level.
The Human Rights Commission decided to create the forum as there “hadn’t previously been a roundtable opportunity for people to ask questions and be informed” about the COVID-19 vaccine. Not only did the community leaders want to create equity around access to the vaccine, they also considered how to build trust for the vaccine among residents.
One thing considered was how to get City of Newburgh residents to vaccination appointments, considering the county-run site is over 30 minutes away in Goshen.
Announced just last week, City of Newburgh residents can now schedule a free ride to and from a vaccination appointment within 30 miles of the city, including to local pharmacies, doctor’s offices, pop-up locations and mass vaccination sites at SUNY Orange in Middletown and Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz. Advance reservation is required for this service (24 hours in advance for Monday-Friday appointments and 48 hours for weekend appointments) and can be arranged by calling the city’s fire department dispatch at 845-569-7420. This service is only available to city residents and they will be required to show confirmation of the appointment. This program was made possible by the City of Newburgh’s Community Development Block Grant Cares Act funding.
However, Ramos described how transportation is only one part of the equity issue when it comes to health care, and, in this case, the vaccine.
“When people think of access with health equity, people usually think of transportation and getting in the car and physically going to a clinic,” said Ramos. “Access goes far beyond the physicality of getting somewhere. Access goes to is there information and materials available in your language and is there transparency and communication for the community.”
Cornerstone Family Healthcare has done this with COVID-19 testing in the past, and is something that would be beneficial to consider for the vaccine.
Another idea that was discussed is giving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine (which only requires one-dose) to community members who are harder to reach, this way someone doesn’t have to worry about making accommodations twice.
“The homeless population was brought up on several occasions,” said Ramos. “Sometimes you can’t get them in for the second dose. We have to be able to get to people where they are.”
Despite the progress, some officials hope to see a permanent site in the City of Newburgh, especially considering the city has been the hardest hit in the area.
“It is necessary,” said Ramos. “We need to be able to have something that is not 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The reality is that most people are working class and are working during the day. We need to be able to expand the vaccine appointments to evenings as well.”
“Newburgh did not get a site, it was skipped over and Middletown was chosen instead,” said Kevindaryán Luján. “The positive thing is we have Saint Luke’s, we have Cornerstone and we have several pharmacies that are getting it. Now with the city taking lead on driving people, we can really overcome a lot of hurdles.”
Moving forward, Ramos plans to continue leading the Human Rights Commision as being a resource for information about the COVID-19 vaccination, showing residents that they can trust the vaccine and how they can then make an appointment. “In the beginning, testing was an impossibility,” said Ramos. “I think six months from now we will be in a very different place. I hope that processes can become more streamlined. I think having a permanent vaccine site here in Newburgh would really create opportunity for health equity and in terms of trust, people would be able to see more people they know and people that look like them getting vaccinated.”