Health insurers partner with cities, organizations to increase vaccinations

PROVIDENCE MAYOR Jorge O. Elorza received his vaccination at a city clinic recently. At right is Dr. Eugenio Fernandez of Asthenis Pharmacy, which manages several clinics in Providence. / COURTESY CITY OF PROVIDENCE.

PROVIDENCE Health insurance companies are actively partnering with community organizations, state agencies and cities to help vaccinate people who are at high risk for complications if they contract COVID-19.

Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island will partner with Providence to help get its members scheduled for vaccinations, including people who may need help with the online process for securing appointments. Through a program created by R.I. Department of Health, Providence as well as other communities are holding their own vaccine clinics, in community-based locations and pharmacies.

Under the partnership, announced Monday, Neighborhood Health will staff a phone-line for its members who need help, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. English- and Spanish-speaking representatives will be available. The number is 1-800-459-6019.

Neighborhood Health is one of the largest health insurers in Rhode Island and provides coverage for state Medicaid participants. It has 62,000 members who live in Providence, according to Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, who announced the partnership.

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Neighborhood’s CEO and President Peter Marino said the company has a long history in Providence, one of the communities that had been hit hard with infections and hospitalizations in the pandemic. “Leveraging strong partnerships and sharing resources are key strategies for getting Rhode Island to the other side of the pandemic and Neighborhood is happy to support vaccine initiatives like this one,” Marino said.

The city, meanwhile, also has partnered with the nonprofit Providence Community Libraries, also to help residents of the city sign up for vaccine appointments. City residents can access that help by calling their neighborhood library, and someone will assist them in signing up for a vaccine appointment.

Tufts Health Plan is helping the city by providing face masks and hand sanitizer to people who are receiving their vaccines at the city clinics, according to a city spokeswoman. The company is also contacting members about the state locations that are offering vaccines and guiding them about how to book their appointment, according to the company.

Rhode Island, starting Monday, opened vaccine eligibility to all residents who are 16 or older. But in many communities, people are getting vaccinated at lower rates. This can be because of lack of access to the most-efficient forms of registration, though an online site, but also because people are uncertain about the vaccines, according to public health officials.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the state’s largest health insurer, has been reaching out to its customers for several months, to help them get appointments, through a care management team, according to a spokeswoman.

The team collaborated with Your Blue Store employees and hosted and helped scheduled vaccine appointments that were being made for clinics hosted by the Lifespan Corp. Those clinics targeted at-risk BCBSRI members in hard-hit zip codes in the state.

Beyond Providence, Neighborhood Health has partnered with the state’s health department to reach out to members who are part of communities hard-hit by the pandemic, including people who are Black, indigenous or Hispanic. The insurer also worked with members who have children with special needs and with the homebound, according to a spokeswoman.

Neighborhood partnered with the R.I. Office of Healthy Aging to vaccinate people living in senior housing complexes in Pawtucket, Central Falls, Providence, Woonsocket and Warwick, with on-site clinics, said spokeswoman Dawn Ratte.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.

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