Ask any number of our clinicians what the Clinics’ biggest accomplishment was over the past year and you’ll get different passionate, lengthy, and emotional responses. That’s because it’s difficult to summarize our COVID response, or even put it into words. But three consistent themes come through every time: We came together. We stayed committed to our patients. We stepped up on behalf of our shared community.
We Came Together, We Stay Together
Marin Community Clinics has a close and extremely collaborative team spirit. Despite significant growth over the years, a high level of connectedness is ingrained in the fabric of our culture. This was true prior to the arrival of COVID-19, and more so now. Staff attribute it to our shared mission. Once the pandemic hit, for many, it was like years of training subconsciously kicked into high gear. In the words of Campus Clinic Director Sarah King, “If you live by a mission, it will help you when you need it.”
Clinics’ teams understood the gravity of the situation from the beginning. They strategically mobilized, triaged, and quickly adapted as guidelines changed daily. Leaders arose in every department as mass testing and screening protocols were coordinated, and as Call Center phone lines exploded. “Medical clinics transitioned from in-person to telehealth visits in less than a week,” explained Associate Chief Medical Officer Melanie Thompson, DO, “which speaks to our care teams and their ability to adapt.” All hands remained on deck. Entire sections of our clinics in San Rafael and Novato were cordoned off and transformed into “Respiratory Clinics” – where patients suffering with COVID could be safely evaluated, treated, and (depending on severity) referred to emergency care services.
Through it all, teamwork and collaboration persevered, and so did the unwavering quality of care. That’s not to say it was smooth sailing. Mental and physical fatigue were a constant. Some staff members got sick. Others lost loved ones to this pandemic. But teams stayed together, and they were there for each other, rain or shine, day in and day out. They lifted each other up.
An Unwavering Commitment to Our Patients
Beginning in January of 2021, vaccine distribution was rolled out in multiple phases and tiers. That strategy, while necessary due to limited supply, helped ensure the most vulnerable among us received priority. But it was also confusing. As King puts it, “terms like ‘phases’ and ‘tiers’ are deterrents, so we were thrilled once the supply allowed for us to take a different approach.”
By March of 2021, the new approach meant simplifying the messaging. “For the Clinics, it became: ‘If you’re a patient of Marin Community Clinics, and you’re eligible for the vaccine, come and get it,’” explained King. That message was echoed at every possible communication touch-point with patients. It was sent directly to patients’ phones, and it was communicated in multiple languages. It helped that the Clinics had already built the foundation – so many in the community know the Clinics as their trusted medical home. The Campus Clinic, in the heart of San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood and in partnership with the County, was transformed into one of the most prominent vaccine hubs in Marin. The results were a massive success, and helped curb outbreaks in the Canal, where our patients were among those disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to social and economic inequities.
*Vaccines adminstered in partnership with the County of Marin at the Mass Vaccination POD are not included
**Tests adminstered in partnership with the County of Marin and Curative are not included
As vaccine clinics were bustling with patients eager to protect themselves, another challenge presented itself: vaccine hesitancy. Marin Community Clinics teams were accustomed to leaning on each other, but this required something more – leaning on our community. Providers and staff began strategizing with emergency response teams at the County, as well as leaders and stakeholders at several community based organizations.
Outreach was everything, and that required joining forces. Thus began weekly Zoom meetings where staff from several organizations shared knowledge, ideas and information, incentive initiatives, and coordinated strategies. They then took to the streets, speaking the language of respected community members, relaying the facts, and promoting the safety of the vaccine. In the Canal, our community partners like Canal Alliance and Multi-Cultural Center of Marin visited local housing communities, knocked on doors, and reached out to leaders at faith-based organizations. Our staff were initiating dialogue with patients at every touch-point, including our twice-weekly Health Hubs.
At the time of writing this report, Marin County has the highest vaccination rate in all of California, at over 92% of eligible residents fully vaccinated. That speaks to the sense of community here and of coordinated partnerships. “Across our entire organization and at all of our clinics, there’s a sense of accomplishment and confidence among staff that comes with the experience of overcoming adversity together,” said Leigha Andrews, MBA, Chief Health Services Officer, “that experience only adds to the level of care we provide.” It’s a can’t-lose mentality, and one that will carry the Clinics through the pandemic and beyond.