Going from 20% to 86% Staff Acceptance of Vaccines - Interview with Derrick DeWitt – February 10, 2021

Regulation | February 10, 2021 | by Jill Schumann

The Rev. Dr. Derrick DeWitt, Chief Financial Officer with the Maryland Baptist Aged Home, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update Call on February 10, 2021 to talk about his experience with COVID-19 and with overcoming staff member vaccine hesitancy.

The Rev. Dr. Derrick DeWitt, Chief Financial Officer with the Maryland Baptist Aged Home, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update Call on February 10, 2021 to talk about his experience with COVID-19 and with overcoming staff member vaccine hesitancy. He responded to questions from Ruth Katz and from callers.

Q: The Maryland Baptist Aged Home is a 29 bed African American- owned nursing home with 42 employees in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. Please tell us about your experience with COVID-19.

A: We have been COVID free since the beginning of the pandemic for both residents and employees. We have been accepting, active, extreme and emotional about what we all needed to do to keep everyone safe. We have kept up the intensity of that message.

Q: Would you tell us about your experience with vaccine clinics?

A: We had our first clinic on December 23rd, so we were among the first. To help create trust, I was the first to be vaccinated. My aunt, who is a resident, was the first resident vaccinated. However, only 11 out of 42 employees took the vaccine at that first clinic.

Q: How did you encourage greater uptake of the vaccine by staff?

A: I talked with employees one on one and there were many different reasons for their uneasiness. Some issues were related to the historical treatment of African Americans by medical institutions and the government. We also heard a great deal of misinformation spread through social media. One on one conversations were the most important strategy.

I had to speak from three different perspectives wearing my:

  • Administrative hat
  • Pastoral hat
  • Scientific hat

And, we now have only 6 of 42 employees who have not been vaccinated. Second dose side effects were manageable, and we had only 2-3 callouts for vaccine symptoms after the second dose.

Q: What was the role of peer influence?

A: Actually, for us peer influence was mostly negative in the beginning. There was one particularly strong leader who was not in favor of the vaccination and she influenced others. I listened to people’s concerns and provided information with my three “hats” and sometimes I indicated that as a small organization where we need everyone to pitch in that I couldn’t guarantee that the person would have a job in the future.

Q: How did you work with/ around the negative influencer?

A: We empower everybody to be infection control police and call each other out when people forget. So, we built on that to say each person had to make their own decision – to think for themselves and to think about their families, the residents and the wider community and about getting beyond the restrictions of COVID at some point.

Q: Are you doing outreach to residents’ and employees’ families to encourage them to be vaccinated?

A: I do a weekly talk in which I ask, “How are you doing?” – and we talk about it then. We also bring food distribution to nursing home for employees and we put factual information into those packages and into paychecks.

Q: Will you get to 100% vaccination, and what will life look like then?

A: Since we aren’t there (at 86%now.) we need to continue to take all precautions. Even if a vaccinated person doesn’t get severe disease, they may still pass it on and run the risk of community spread. Until everyone is vaccinated, there is no chance of loosening practices and even then, we will follow the guidance Dr. Fauci and the CDC give us.

Q: We hear you are doing interview with Gayle King and Ted Koppel. You are involved in important work in the wider community.

A: In the 74 block Sandtown neighborhood (where Freddie Gray was killed), there are 109 liquor stores and no grocery stores. Before COVID my church provided a soup kitchen and food pantry monthly – we are now doing that six days a week and have brought together many partners to assist our neighbors. We are also striving against poverty and crime with jobs, including a solar manufacturing initiative and a food distribution hub. We are also working to get a vaccine clinic going in the neighborhood as access is a challenge.