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A Special COVID-19 Clinic for the Special-Needs Community

While the COVID-19 vaccine may be readily available across California, many people with special needs face a variety of challenges that make it difficult for them to access the shot. The care team at Dignity Health’s Sequoia Hospital recognized these unique challenges and set out to help its neighbors with special needs gain convenient access to the lifesaving vaccine.

This past spring, Dr. Dieter Bruno, chief medical officer of Sequoia Hospital, launched a dedicated vaccine clinic in partnership with the Bay Area Christian Church and the Hope Technology School, a private school catering to both neurotypical students as well as students with learning, developmental and physical disabilities, many of whom were experiencing barriers to getting vaccinated.

The clinic was specifically designed to be accessible for those with developmental disabilities, such as autism, and their family members and caregivers. The clinic provided a sensory-friendly environment and incorporated expertise from both therapists and teachers, along with the Dignity Health clinical staff, to help administer the vaccines.

“In the world of special needs, you don’t always see people reaching out or taking that extra step to meet someone where they are, and that’s what I’ll be forever grateful for,” Diane Thompson, a parent whose child received a vaccine through the clinic, told KPIX reporters.

Throughout the day, more than 100 patients were vaccinated. “Our nurses, who have been working so hard throughout the pandemic, found this experience so rewarding that they all wanted to come back,” said Marie Violet, director of health and wellness at Sequoia Hospital. “And parents were in tears because this happened. Everyone was so grateful.”

Partnering with community organizations like these has been key to reaching vulnerable communities during the pandemic. “Our Dignity Health team actively seeks ways to help the communities we serve, be it one-to-one outreach or partnerships with community organizations like this,” said Violet. “It is with the help of partners like these that we are able to reach populations who, for a variety of complex reasons, have limited access to care in traditional settings.”

Dignity Health continues to explore additional opportunities to help close the health care equity gap and make access to care easier, particularly for the special-needs community.