The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated medically underserved communities in the United States and posed a critical challenge for the providers and organizations serving them. Lack of access to care and financial instability have left low-income populations especially vulnerable to the pandemic—particularly communities of color, which have suffered severely due to structural racism, overrepresentation in essential work settings, and other factors. Health centers and other organizations serving these patients, as always, were the first to step forward and remain on the front lines, providing care to patients who need it most, and the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved responded with agility to support our providers, patients, and providers.

Health centers in our community have confronted a multitude of challenges in the wake of COVID-19—from the need to implement rapid testing and pivot to telehealth to the struggle to support provider morale and address financial uncertainty. None of these challenges may have been as immediately pressing during an infectious pandemic as the crucial need for adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect providers and patients on the frontlines. As PPE supplies ran low in the emerging crisis, ACU stepped in with the aid of our key partner Centene to supply health centers from all corners of the nation with vital PPE—including N95 masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, and pairs of gloves, each provided at exact cost.

Over the course of 2020, ACU was pleased to provide this equipment to over 100 health centers and other organizations in over 30 states. Our partners ranged from Copper River Native Association providing care to native Alaskans and others in rural Glennallen, AK, to Unity Health Care serving low-income populations and people experiencing homelessness in the heart of Washington, D.C.—but each was united in the mission to protect and care for the underserved during the ongoing pandemic.

As of December 2020, the ACU had provided the following PPE to health centers:

In addition to our PPE initiative, ACU and our STAR2 Center also united our providers and advocates for more than 10 webinars specifically addressing critical topics related to the pandemic, from healthcare delivery for incarcerated populations and social determinants of health to effective advocacy and suicide prevention, reaching over 1,300 attendees. Learn more about our efforts in our 2020 Annual Report.

ACU continues to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic, and we know that immense work must be done before our nation can end a crisis that has already claimed the lives of over 425,000 patients and providers alike. As we support new initiatives to address the pandemic through boosting vaccine confidence and examining strategies to improve health equity during and after the pandemic in our 2021 Annual Conference—we depend upon your feedback to help guide our efforts. Please share your thoughts with our Executive Director Amanda Pears Kelly.