The Westchester County Health Department has been awarded a $3.76 million, two-year grant by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health to reduce health disparities, improve vaccination rates and increase health literacy among residents most at risk of COVID-19.

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Westchester County Commissioner of Health Sherlita Amler, MD, said: “I am grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with our trusted community partners to improve health equity in Westchester. With this grant, we plan to make a difference by improving COVID-19 health outcomes for residents who are sometimes left behind. This grant will help us better serve people of color, those living in poverty and people with limited English language proficiency.”

First Deputy Commissioner of Health Renee Recchia said: “With the COVID-19 Delta variant on the rise, this grant opportunity couldn’t come at a better time as we work diligently to reach our target communities about the importance of vaccination. While COVID-19 is the priority, the Health Department will also benefit by using the framework to be developed to strengthen our messaging on other vital public health topics going forward.”

The County Health Department will partner with Mercy College, community and faith-based organizations to develop an educational plan to share with residents in parts of New Rochelle Mount Vernon, Ossining, Peekskill, Port Chester, White Plains and Yonkers. 

Together, these organizations will identify 160 trusted community members who will each share the lessons with hundreds of other residents. These lessons will offer current information on COVID-19 vaccines, identify barriers to vaccine acceptance as well as COVID-19 prevention, exposure and treatment guidelines. 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 Department also will team up with the County Department of Corrections to train Corrections staff members to provide similar outreach and education to hundreds of residents and Department of Correction staff members.

Mercy College President Tim Hall said: “Mercy College is proud to be a partner with the Westchester County Department of Health (WCDH) on the Advancing Health Literacy (AHL) to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19 Initiative. This two-year grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will allow the WCDH to address health disparities surrounding COVID-19 and establish best practices for providing for the underserved populations in our community.”

Dr. Adrienne Wald, an associate professor at Mercy College, said: “My faculty colleagues, Dr. Marc Campo, Dr. Charis Davidson and I, in the School of Natural and Health Sciences, are excited about this opportunity to work with Dr. Dial Hewlett, MD, principal investigator, and the entire the team at the County Health Department, to serve our community by collaborating on this grant aimed to fight COVID-19 and improve health literacy among the most vulnerable members of Westchester County.”

Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Spano said: “We look forward to partnering with the Health Department to add health education to the wide array of services we provide and to share accurate COVID-19 information with the population we serve. By improving health literacy in our jail, we can improve the health of our whole community and reduce the risk of spread.”

The County Health Department is one of just three health departments statewide to receive this award.