MCHD’s Dr. Lee Smith attends Summit on COVID-19 Equity at White House
Dec. 7, 2022
Mary Wade Burnside
Public Information Officer
Monongalia County Health Department
Morgantown, WV 26505 (304) 598-5152 | www.monchd.org MaryWade.Burnside@wv.gov
MORGANTOWN, WV (Dec. 7, 2022) — As the COVID-19 pandemic continued and some populations expressed hesitancy about getting a vaccine, a group of health care workers met with barbers and stylists in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas, teaching them about the importance of vaccines so they could pass on positive messages to their clients.
Dr. Lee B. Smith of Monongalia County Health Department and the county health officer, heard this anecdote at the invitation-only Summit on COVID-19 Equity, hosted in mid-November by the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
“This speaker used an existing network,” Dr. Smith said. “Like in some other communities, in the black population, there was some vaccine hesitancy and reluctance for a number of reasons.”
At the summit, Professor Stephen B. Thomas of the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity discussed the program, called Shots at the Shop, noting, “Now, people are coming into the barbershop and saying, “Where can I get my COVID-19 booster,” according to a press release posted on the university’s website. “Trust matters.”
Dr. Smith noted: “In the black community, you don’t just sit at the barbershop for 15 minutes at a time. You get caught up in sports and other topics. It’s a very social thing, and they were able to increase the number of people who got vaccinated.”
This served as an important take-home message for Dr. Smith as West Virginia has its own populations that have largely declined to get vaccinated for the virus that was declared a pandemic in early 2020.
The event was held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the West Wing of the White House. Officials including Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, were in attendance and served on panels.
“I got to meet Dr. Murthy, who gave us an overview in between panel discussions,” Dr. Smith said. “And Dr. Walensky spoke of the importance of getting the money for funding public health down to the public health departments. They realize that a lot of the funds are getting extracted before getting down to the people.”
Many topics resonated with Dr. Smith, who noted the struggles that local health departments have faced. In West Virginia, that included the loss, prior to COVID, of 25% of state funding, and universally, employee retention issues brought on by the pandemic.
“During COVID, we lost 11 employees,” he said. “That’s 1/10 of our workforce. These employees had had enough or they decided that this was a good time to retire, thinking, ‘I didn’t sign on for this.’ It’s difficult replacing them. We always feel the brain drain, especially with employees with skill sets that have taken years to develop.”
Panel discussion topics at the summit included “It All Starts With Trust,” “The Power of Partnerships” and “From COVID-19 Equity to Health Equity.” Those were followed by a poster presentation, the COVID-19 Equity What Works Showcase.
Participants were required to show up at 10 a.m. for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test before the daylong event started at noon.
Monongalia County Health Department’s robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic and good relationship with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) might have been influential in Dr. Smith receiving an invitation to the small event, attended by under 100 individuals.
“I was happy to go and represent our health department and be recognized for the efforts we’ve put forth in Monongalia County,” Dr. Smith said. “We are getting noticed at higher levels and with NACCHO, we’ve become a trusted partner, and we get a lot of offers from them.”
For up-to-date information on health and wellness in Monongalia County, check out monchd.org and follow the health department on Facebook and Twitter @WVMCHD and on Instagram at #wvmchd.