In the midst of the pandemic, many experiences, hesitancies and challenges have been met and shared by those both needing and receiving care. A vast amount of suggestions and advice exist on what people should do to stay safe, treat conditions, and get vaccinated. However, that is only one perspective. What about the healthcare professionals who offer care to members of the underserved communities who seem to be representing the highest number of COVID cases and deaths? How is this pandemic seen through their eyes?
Dr. Marquisha Jarmon of Birmingham, Alabama is no stranger to the efforts behind serving rural and minority populations. Her history of practice runs deep within the blackbelt areas of Jasper and Greensboro. During this pandemic season, the societal stress that COVID places on diverse populations as a whole primarily impacts the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and children. Depleted resources are not limited to the usual factors cited from the patient perspective. As a healthcare professional, Dr. Jarmon faces the view of a fading healthcare system, vaccine hesitancy and lack of personal patient accountability.
Rural areas are jeopardized by frequent closures and struggling facilities working to keep their doors open. The number of healthcare providers that once populated these communities continues to decrease as the pandemic surges the communities. There are not enough providers to care for the patients. As the case numbers rise, the healthcare system ultimately becomes overwhelmed causing both quality and outcomes to suffer. Those left behind tend to be uninsured, elderly, chronically ill or children. When lack of public transportation is added to the scenario, providers and quality healthcare become impossibilities.
Dr. Jarmon was asked to offer two points of advice that would support the battle against COVID in rural areas. Her first point… GET VACCINATED! Despite the negativity and myths spoiling the reputation of current vaccines, they do offer protection. Unfortunately, when providers address Rural America, there must be a TRUST factor in place. Dr. Jarmon emphasizes the importance of having someone present in the communities that can identify with those that live there. Presence in the churches, universities and other public forums is needed so that people can see their concerns being addressed and met by a provider who is genuine to the scope of life in the places these patients call home. Right now, communities are being told to take the vaccine with understanding the potential benefit, yet in these circumstances, having no access. In her words, “People are just trying to make do.” The proposed solution sends mixed messages to communities appearing that help is being offered but not at full capacity. People do need to be vaccinated but not everyone has avenues of access or transportation. The problem runs deeper than the surface issue. History’s presence still prevails in the minds of most.
When it comes to overall perception, Dr. Jarmon explains, “Facts are often outweighed by beliefs embedded in their lives by someone else, with no blame to the people who live there.” There is a need for a coping mechanism rather than an absent entity driving people to make a choice.