According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, like many other vulnerable populations - the COVID-19 pandemic affected the substance use disorder (SUD) population. As we experienced, factors included job loss and poor mental health outcomes which could further contribute to substance use challenges. Continued stigma associated with SUD may also affect access to care. However, Rise Up Central Kansas continues to work hard to meet people where they're at through their Health Equity and Recovery Team (HEART) in Great Bend. The ITR funds enable Rise Up HEART to engage with diverse populations not only in Great Bend (Barton County), but also in Ellsworth, Pawnee, Rice, Russell, and Stafford Counties to increase vaccination education, awareness and remove barriers with the SUD population.
What makes this approach unique are the various authentic efforts to reach the communities, including food distributions operated by the faith-based community and holding one-on-one conversations with SUD peer navigators to continue strengthening the trusted relationships and encouraging people to get the lifetime of vaccines to protect against many diseases and infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccines into adulthood as a significant preventive care program and thanks to Rise Up Central Kansas' HEART Team, the peer navigators are removing barriers such as misinformation and transportation barriers. The critically important peer navigators also share their lived experiences as part of the SUD population and gets the dialogue started in a way that is trusted, which is alone a huge win. Amy Ferguson, Rise Up Central Kansas' Program Coordinator said, "Recently, the HEART Team peer navigators and I were at a local laundromat in Great Bend and we had meaningful conversations with people who were there to do their laundry. The Laundry Love event was held to inform the community on various resources and services. As people from the SUD community, we are actively focused on our recovery journey and have the lived experience to do outreach with others to continue building the trust and engaging with people to urge a lifetime of vaccines to be healthy in many ways." What better way to show compassion in action!