Hyattsville partners with local nonprofit in vaccination outreach
By Melena DiNenna
The Hyattsville City Council approved a partnership on July 19 with the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (HyCDC) to aid the city government’s COVID-19 vaccination outreach efforts.
The proposal for the partnership, submitted by HyCDC Director and former City Council President Stuart Eisenberg, outlines an outreach program aimed at educating Hyattsville residents about the vaccine and registering them for shots.
The first phase of the outreach program involves hiring, training and deploying a team of up to eight canvassers to knock on doors at five apartment complexes in the area, according to Eisenberg.
“We’re training our canvassers to be sensitive [and] to not answer questions as if they’re doctors,” he said, “but rather to refer to experts or to dispel misinformation with information that’s printed … in Spanish and English.”
Many Latinos and other minorities live at the five apartment complexes — Kirkwood Apartments, North Point Apartment Homes, Belcrest Plaza, Plaza Towers Apartments and The Plaza Apartments — according to the partnership’s proposal.
These groups have low vaccination rates compared to others in Hyattsville, according to George Escobar, the chief of programs and services at CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy organization with an office in unincorporated Hyattsville.
“A lot of folks that are living in [Hyattsville] communities are undocumented and don’t have access to health care,” said Escobar. “You [have] to address the hesitancy questions … [and] the trust questions.”
The city initially reached out to CASA de Maryland. However, the organization did not have enough staff to take on the project due to prior commitments, according to Hyattsville Emergency Operations Manager Reggie Bagley.
Bagley said he then reached out to the HyCDC given their previous census outreach work. The HyCDC is a nonprofit organization that supports development, community and leadership in the city, including promoting the arts, local businesses and public spaces, according to its website.
“[The partnership] will help us tremendously, in terms of being able to target people, document how many people we’re contacting, and then, in the vaccination efforts that follow, we’ll be able to compare numbers with how many people we’ve talked to versus how many folks actually showed up for vaccination,” Bagley said.
To address any vaccine hesitancy among Latino and other minority groups in Hyattsville, Eisenberg said, HyCDC canvassers inform residents that the vaccination clinics held in the city do not ask for identification or ask questions about immigration status.
Three of the targeted apartment buildings — Belcrest, Plaza Tower and Plaza Apartments — are outside incorporated Hyattsville borders. The grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the partnership specifies that outreach may include Hyattsville “and immediate surrounding communities,” according to City Administrator Tracey Douglas.
“The more we can reach, the better,” she said. “We’re trying to meet people where they are, and get as many people … vaccinated [as we can].”
Eisenberg said “borders matter less” when addressing emergencies such as the coronavirus.
“People’s idea of where they live is [also] … where they shop or work,” he said. “Whatever it is you’re dealing with is felt in your community even if it happens … to someone nearby.”
Eisenberg said they are continuing to assemble a team of canvassers, who will then spend at least two months knocking on apartment doors during the first phase of the project. The second phase will include canvassing at local grocery stores and laundromats, he said, and setting up mobile clinics.
As the delta variant, the most transmissible variant to date, spreads throughout Maryland, Eisenberg sees vaccine outreach as more crucial than ever.