Providers on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19 equip themselves to meet the myriad challenges the virus presents, but health care workers in the nation’s communities of color must also combat preexisting health care disparities that limit access and outcomes in minorities populations.

The leaders of three health care organizations decided to join forces in an effort to use their expertise, resources and experience to mount a joint attack on the coronavirus and other health care challenges often seen in their patient population. SDV (Skilled, Destined, and Vigilant) Healthcare is a new collaborative, but represents decades of experience of providing medical care to the area’s Black community and they hit the ground running Saturday during a COVID-19 testing clinic that battled the virus and the capital area’s frigidly cold conditions.

The three-prong force includes two nurse practitioners and a registered nurse and their separate organizations. Nurse practitioner Shetila Burrell is CEO of Heart 2 Heart Care Clinic; nurse practitioner Dawn Melancon is CEO of Divinity Healthcare; and registered nurse Vikki Wilbon is CEO of Rosebud Healthcare and Training.

SDV Healthcare partnered with Open Health Care Clinic and Runner’s Courier Services, both veterans in the testing scene across the Baton Rouge region.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide crisis but clearing misnomers and using testing as a line of defense is crucial in the fight. The virus has left a unique footprint on communities of color and infection rates, death rates and the increased unemployment has called for added engagement, awareness and access to testing.

“Limited or lack of access to COVID testing as well as a lack of understanding for the importance of testing is simply a continuation of challenges we continue to face with respect to quality health care,” Wilbon said. “We are here to help stop the chronic health care crisis in our community.”

“Knowing your status was the common reframe during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but the reality is that this should be our mindset when it comes to any chronic disease that impacts our community,” Burrell said. “We know that access to health care and therefore access to testing is killing so many members of our community, so we are elated to bring testing directly to the community.”

The National Institutes of Health has defined health disparities as differences that exist among specific population groups in the attainment of full health potential that can be measured by differences in incidence, prevalence, mortality, burden of disease and other adverse health conditions. Finding solutions, however, can be more difficult than the mere definition.

“I feel like there's health disparities because people don't have access to help,” Melancon said. “They don't have transportation, money or the babysitters. They don't have the privilege that other people have and they often lack the education to make the needed priorities.”

Burrell explained the education component was an early missing factor. For decades, having access to medical care was not paired with the knowledge to explain health issues or being advocates for oneself when engaged with doctors. “When they started to go to the doctor, the doctor was speaking over our head,” she said. “So, and if you don't understand where I'm coming from and my health disparities, then how can you teach and educate me on my health?”

The three providers said they feel that their connection to the communities they serve will allow them to bridge several gaps and help increase access and quality of care. “We are committed to reducing the spread of COVID-19. It is our sincere hope and prayer that business owners and community leaders will take full advantage of the opportunity that we are offering to the community,” Melancon said.

The SDV Healthcare collaborative plans to extend medical outreach to businesses, schools, churches and community organizations to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Testing is available on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis. Any group interested in hosting a mobile testing site can call SDV Healthcare at (225) 229-3254.