Westchester County has been awarded a $3.76 million federal grant to increase health literacy to help underserved communities within the county combat COVID-19 more effectively.
The Department of Health and Human Services through its Office of Minority Health approved the two-year funding to Westchester to increase vaccination rates in areas where people are more at risk for the virus, said County Executive George Latimer. It is one of only three areas of the state, along with New York City and Orange County, and 73 entities across the nation to receive the funding, he said.
Dr. Dial Hewlett, who leads the county’s Division of Disease Control, said Westchester will partner with Mercy College along with community organizations and houses of worship to help reduce health disparities in the 10 most susceptible areas. The county will rely on census tracks to identify the predominantly urban areas where various factors may inhibit vaccine access and acceptance.
Areas that have low socioeconomic status and a higher proportion of people of color and those with limited English proficiency will be targeted in the program, he said.
“The specific goal of this grant is to demonstrate the effectiveness of local government implementation of evidence-based health literacy strategies that are culturally appropriate for the purpose of enhancing COVID vaccination rates, enhancing COVID testing, enhancing contact tracing and also many other mitigating measures in areas of racial and ethnic minority populations and also among other socially vulnerable populations, including these racial and ethnic minority communities,” Hewlett said.
Communities that will benefit from the Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Response to COVID-19 initiative, as it is called, are Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Peekskill, Port Chester, White Plains, Yonkers, Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow, Montrose and Croton-on-Hudson.
Miriam Ford, associate dean of nursing at Mercy College, said the school and the other participants in the program share the county Health Department’s commitment to serving the most vulnerable.
“In this time of COVID, with the numbers rising again, the work of getting out accessible information regarding COVID-19 is vital and we are incredibly proud to be part of this,” Ford said.
Each of the participating community organizations will identify 160 community members to share the lessons with hundreds of other residents. The community members will help residents learn how to identify reliable sources of health information and how to improve their confidence in navigating the health system.
The Health Department also will team up with the county Department of Corrections to train corrections staff members to provide similar outreach and education.
Hewlett said having Westchester granted the money is a significant achievement for the county.
“This grant is truly the highest form of recognition for our department and I am honored to be the principal investigator for this project,” he said. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to work together to improve the health of everyone in our county.”