When longtime south Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings died on Tuesday, it wasn't exactly a surprise. He had been on hospice care for a very long time and Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been voting for him all year. The buzz about who would fill his seat came fast and furiously. The most obvious candidates are Broward County Commissioners Dale Holness (former Broward County Mayor) and Barbara Sharief, state Senators Perry Thurston and Shevrin Jones, former State Senator Chris Smith, former presidential candidate and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam and, the progressive community leader who took Hastings on in 2018 and 2020 and was already running this year, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick.
I've been getting to know Sheila since last year. Because she's in the healthcare field and because of the kind of human being she is, she talks a lot about coming out of the pandemic while creating jobs in the areas hardest hit by health care disparities. Last week she told me that the pandemic "exposed deep economic and racial fault lines which have created significant disparities in health care. In order to address the pandemic’s dual crises in our economic and healthcare systems, we must take bold action to remedy the disparities that exist today by adopting Medicare-for-All and simultaneously investing directly into the communities that are hit the hardest."
She addressed Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in terms of her own hard-pressed part of Florida, noting that it "provides some $400 billion in needed funding for the areas of this country which have suffered the brunt of this pandemic. But we must do more to address the failures that necessitated this support and break down social economic barriers that still stand across this nation. Our communities are dying in poverty without necessary healthcare and job opportunities. My mission as a healthcare leader and community leader is to tear down disparities from the inside out, create well-paying jobs that support our community while building a more equitable healthcare system. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan gives us the opportunity to do just that if we adopt an approach that invest in the communities hardest hit and adopt Medicare-for-All. This approach must prioritize hiring community members in disadvantaged communities to provide health care services in the communities they live in. This is a 'hire-within' approach."
Sheila's point was that for too long, "Americans have endured limited choices between a few corporate providers that view patients as dollars and do not have the cultural competency to effectively reach, educate or care for the community. By investing in local opportunities, coming out of this pandemic isn’t just providing patients options for cost-effective care but will also provide jobs to residents who raise families, support small-businesses, and create healthy communities that thrive across our nation. This fight is personal for me. That’s why I’ve fought so hard for a seat at the table: to deliver for our community, and to reform the pervasive failures of our healthcare system. Too many families are still struggling, working paycheck to paycheck, drowning in debt without the stability every hard-working American is entitled to. They’re late on car loans, medical bills piling up-- and I know what it feels like because I am them. It is imperative that as we build back, we address the circumstances that have forced so many of our neighbors into poverty and ensure that families are taken care of. We must ensure all Americans have access to the responsive, necessary medical care they deserve, and that our communities are full of opportunities to work, grow and build a family."
During the discussions we've been having on the phone and through e-mail, the idea of the vaccine passports have come up. They can be a way for business-- and the country-- to get back to "normal," but the need to examine what that normalcy is, and for whom, has become obvious. I asked her to share some of her thoughts on the efficacy of the "passports" and how they can work in southeast Florida in the guest post below. Please give it a read and please consider contributing to her grassroots campaign by clicking on the 2022 Blue America congressional thermometer on the left. Congress needs more people who can think independently and out-of-the-box the way Sheila does.
Vaccination Passports: Exasperating Health and Social Disparities
-by Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick
The introduction of vaccination passports has been controversial for many reasons. The core rationale of this program is that public health restrictions that limit freedoms and socially valuable activities should be tailored to verifiable risk. This argument is reasonable. However, when applied to our already flawed healthcare system which is embedded with racial and economic disparities, the creation of a vaccination class composed mostly of low-income and minority families becomes more emanate.
Vaccine passports are certifications of vaccination that are intended to reduce public health restrictions for their carriers. Travel eligibility has been the primary focus and use of vaccination passports to determine access to social and recreational gatherings, workplaces, or schools has been gaining momentum. The implications of adopting vaccination passports could reverberate into almost all aspects of our lives from limiting who can work in certain professions or facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals, commercial airplanes, meatpacking plants, schools, and essential businesses. In addition, they would place restrictions on who can live in long-term care, government-subsidized, university housing or, eventually, for in-person attendance at public and private schools.
Before any vaccination requirements or passports are adopted, equitable access is required. Expanding access to the vaccine is an important step toward reducing vaccination disparities. Free vaccinations are part of the solution, but factors like economic, social, and cultural barriers to health care must also be considered as well as well as new strategies to increase the efficiency of health care delivery.
A major barrier to accessing the vaccine is location. Since many members of the community cannot afford to take days off of work or wait in line for hours, vaccination sites need to be located in areas that they commonly frequent. However, low-income areas traditionally have limited availability of health care resources. For example, physician and clinic shortages may mean that patients experience longer wait times and delayed care. Many health care resources are more prevalent in communities where residents are well-insured, and the type of insurance individuals have plays a big part as well. Medicaid patients, for instance, experience access issues when living in areas where few physicians accept Medicaid due to its reduced reimbursement rate. As a result, many community members rely on mobile or floating clinics.
Increasing the number of mobile and floating clinics facilitates more access to the vaccine. Mobile and floating clinic vaccination programs are able to fit the communities where people live, learn, work, play, and worship. These vaccination programs are the most effective when combined with community leaders and staffed with community members.
Recruitment of local vendors and health care professionals to conduct vaccinations and support the program encourages vaccination and creates more jobs. By hiring vendors within the community, we can ensure that they have the proper cultural competency that allow members of the community to feel comfortable taking the vaccine and lead culturally responsive outreach while reducing the stigma of the COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, the job creation of the vaccination program will bring enthusiasm to low-income communities. The vendors and employees will go back to the communities they live in and talk about the job opportunities, take pride in their role in ending this pandemic and recruit member of the community to come out and give it a shot.
The introduction of vaccination passports without addressing vaccination accessibility further exasperates the disparities due to the social economic hurdles within the health care system.