VISTA — The 49th District’s congressman recently paid the Vista Community Clinic a visit to highlight its role in making sure the area’s underserved populations have access to COVID-19 vaccinations.
Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) took a tour of the clinic’s headquarters in Vista on April 12, learning about the day-to-day operations of the clinic and how it’s working to vaccinate as many people as possible.
“They do incredible work to serve the community, particularly those who are the hardest to reach,” Levin told The Coast News.
Earlier this year, the clinic was one of the first 25 federally qualified community health centers (CHCs) in the nation to receive extra COVID vaccines directly from the Department of Health and Human Services. The extra doses were part of an effort between the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to target those who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
“One of the reasons we were the first to receive the vaccines was because of the populations we serve,” said Fernando Sañudo, chief executive of VCC.
The clinic has vaccinated about 7,300 of its approximately 70,000 patients. That number includes migrant farmworkers and homeless individuals whom the clinic has reached using its mobile van, bringing the vaccines right to the patients.
Levin also presented Congressional Certificates of Recognition to local “Promotoras,” thanking them for their vaccine outreach work.
Promotoras, or “peer educators” are people in the community who are viewed as leaders and are generally trusted by the other community members. The clinic has been working with promotoras since the 1990s to help inform community members about the clinic’s services and help them receive the medical care they need.
“We really rely on them because they’re our voice out in the community,” Sañudo said about the promotoras. “It’s a great help for us because they’re already known and trusted in the community, and they do a much better job than us sometimes of being able to get the word out quickly.”
Levin said the work that the promotoras do is critical for the communities the clinic serves.
Sañudo said the clinic’s promotoras were excited to receive recognition from a government official, a first for them.
“The fact that he took the time to honor them just meant the world to them,” Sañudo said. “I was incredibly happy to see how proud they were to receive their certificates.”
In March, the American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden awarded $14.7 million to VCC, and Sañudo said a large portion of those funds would be used to hire additional staff to help with distributing vaccines. The clinic is currently recruiting for more nurses, medical assistants and other support staff to join its team.
The clinic also plans to use the money to buy another medical mobile van to increase its outreach to the community.
Currently, VCC has nine locations, most in San Diego County, with one in Orange County and another in Riverside County. Sañudo said the clinic is working on a 10th location.
The clinic is also anticipating more federal funding that could potentially help it build nine additional exam rooms at its Vista location.
As more of its patients become eligible for the vaccination, VCC continues its efforts to call, text and reach out to as many people as possible.
“We’re asking the community to be as patient as they can be,” Sañudo said.
In addition to its COVID-19 vaccinations, the clinic also offers a plethora of other medical services, including primary, dental, neonatal, behavioral health, chiropractic care and more.