RENTON, Wash. — Genoa Healthcare is teaming with community mental health centers nationwide to provide access to the COVID-19 vaccine for people with mental illness and other behavioral health conditions, who are more likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19, but often face social and practical barriers to receiving immunizations.
To date, Genoa has provided more than 100,000 immunizations across 37 states, primarily to patients and staff at behavioral health centers and group homes, and plans to continue proactively offering vaccines to behavioral health patients who haven’t had easy access to immunization clinics or declined to get the vaccine so far.
“The people we serve in our pharmacies are at greater risk from COVID-19 but they also face increased hurdles such as transportation issues, lack of knowledge, fear of stigma or hesitancy that’s exacerbated by mental illness,” said Natasha Hennessy, Genoa’s chief pharmacy officer. “Together with our clinic partners, we’re committed to helping overcome those hurdles and ensuring the behavioral health community gets the care they deserve.”
The recent rise in the U.S. of the more transmissible Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus underscores the need to ensure access to vaccine, Hennessy added.
Genoa’s nearly 600 pharmacies are integrated on-site within community mental health centers. Research shows that when people have access to immunizations in the same location they get their mental health care, they are significantly more likely to get their shots. A recent article in JAMA Psychiatry shows that providing vaccination clinics parallel to mental health services can increase vaccination rates by up to 25%.
“When our patients can go down the hall after seeing their therapist, and get vaccinated by a pharmacist they know and trust, it makes a huge difference in their ability and willingness to get immunized,” said Karen Boorshtein, CEO of Family Service League of Huntington, NY, where the on-site Genoa pharmacy has administered more than 1,000 COVID vaccine doses. “There is no question that the COVID-19 immunizations provided by Genoa at our clinic and in the community have saved lives.”
Studies show that people living with serious mental illness are more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID due to poorer general health and factors such as lack of access to health care and housing. In addition, people with behavioral health conditions tend to have less access to consistent, quality health care, including immunizations, and face barriers to immunization including lack of knowledge, access and recommendations from primary care providers.
Genoa pharmacists proactively engage with the people they serve about COVID-19 and other vaccinations and answer questions about the safety and need for the vaccine. Pharmacy teams have tools to hold immunization events and Genoa has sponsored training for hundreds of technicians to become certified to administer COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Even now that vaccines are widely available in the U.S. and the pace of immunizations has slowed down, we have a lot of work to do to ensure the behavioral health community is adequately served,” said Genoa Healthcare CEO Joe Douglas. “The people who use our pharmacies, who benefit from more hands-on support, deserve to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine where they receive their mental health care. It’s the right thing to do.”