Addressing Health Equity During the Pandemic

  • October 8, 2020

Addressing Health Equity During the Pandemic- Substance Use Disorders and COVID-19 -Raising Awareness About the Impact of Substance Use Disorders and Sharing Prevention Strategies During Substance Abuse Prevention Month

 Boston, MA (October 1st, 2020): During these uncertain times, the stress of social isolation and other COVID-19 related life changes has led to or worsen substance use and misuse in vulnerable communities leading to health risks, mental illnesses, trauma and trauma.

 Whittier Street Health Center will be conducting events throughout the month of October promoting our efforts to stop the opioid epidemic that continues to plague our community.  From 2016-2017, a dramatic spike in the frequency of “Code Blue- Medical Emergency” calls in our clinic resulting from heroin overdose ignited our need for a call to action addressing opioid use disorder (OUD).  In October 2017, Whittier launched the “It Takes A Village” (ITAV) campaign to strengthen our integrated system of community mobilization, overdose prevention, treatment and support for those in our neighborhoods with OUD who are at high risk of overdose and death. As a direct result of the ITAV initiative, a revision of Whittier’s Opioid Prescribing policy was made by the clinic’s Narcotics Committee, an integrated team with representation from Primary Care, Behavioral Health and our QA/QI Department. Policy change resulted in the drastic reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions being written by medical providers and an increase in patient education and promotion of non-opioid alternatives for the management of chronic pain, including mindfulness practices, yoga, acupuncture and physical therapy. To increase preparedness for opioid overdoses, our Behavioral Health clinicians, outreach workers, front desk, facilities and security staff have been trained to administer Narcan through the ITAV initiative.  Additionally, providers, patients and the community at large were provided education and patient testimonies on the benefits of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for OUD.

“While the shift in focus in the media and the world has been COVID-19, we are aware that opioid use continues to be rampant and on the rise in our neighborhood. This is brining devastating effects, as seen in the spike in HIV rates for persons who inject drugs. We need to be diligent in our prevention efforts by bringing awareness and treatment options into the spotlight through our It Takes A Village campaign” stated Christine Pajarillo, LICSW, Vice President of Programs and Social Services.

Frederica M Williams, President & CEO stated that “as a leader in urban community health care and social services, Whittier is consistently utilizing clinical data, community needs assessment data and patient feedback to create and implement programs to address the high rates of mortality and morbidity rates in the communities served which are caused by a host of health, social and economic issues. Removing the stigma regarding mental health and substance use disorders and engaging patients in wellness and prevention strategies, especially during these uncertain times should help to improve health outcomes and the quality of life.”

In 2020, with the many health, economic and social equity challenges being experienced by our low-income, and African American and Latinx patients, we have reinvigorated our opioid awareness campaign efforts. The American Medical Association recently issued a brief urging states to take increased action on the issue of opioid overdoses, saying 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 2,000 people continue to die from opioid related deaths in Massachusetts every year, and while the state hasn’t released data for the second quarter of 2020, the time period covering the surge in the coronavirus pandemic, preliminary data suggest a rise in overdose deaths. Ambulance transports involving overdoses started increasing in April, following a decline at the onset of the pandemic. We have seen an upward trend in the relapse rates of our patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, as prolonged isolation, fear, grief, unemployment, lack of childcare and uncertainty about the future put sustained recovery at risk for many during the course of the past several months.

Being cognizant that the COVID-pandemic has impacted our ability to host large community events, we are planning to host small-scale ITAV group activities/events throughout the month of October, with a mix of in-person and virtual programming including:  Narcan training (providers and patient training events), Psychological First Aid training for providers and a community event on Tuesday October 27, 2020 from 12-1pm highlighting patient success stories in their journey overcoming OUD.

The It Takes A Village (ITAV) community event on October 27, 2020 at 12pm at Whittier Street Health Center, 1290 Tremont Street, Roxbury, will include a Keynote Speaker on opioid awareness, overdose prevention and non-opioid alternatives to pain management, Narcan kits to be dispensed to patients and staff, and distribution of educational materials

About Us

Whittier Street Health Center is an independently licensed community health care center with a mission of providing high quality, reliable and accessible primary healthcare for diverse populations while promoting wellness and eliminating health and social disparities. A champion of equitable access to high quality, patient-focused care, social justice and economic equity, Whittier is accredited by The Joint Commission (TJC), certified by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) as a Patient-Centered Medical Home, and recognized by the NCQA for its Behavioral Health Integration. Through its locations in Roxbury and North Dorchester, and its Mobile Health Van program, Whittier serves nearly 30,000 patients and 20,000 community outreach visits annually; its ethnically and racially diverse patient base is primarily made up of individuals from Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, the South End and Greater Boston. Approximately 36% of Whittier’s patients are uninsured. Whittier provides a comprehensive array of 40 healthcare programs and services designed to meet the primary health care, behavioral health, and social needs of the community. Learn more at

Media Contact:

617 989 3221

617 429 3815

A note about Whittier and COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in our area, we ask all clients and patients to call ahead before coming to any of our sites. We are working to take care of most clients/patients via phone/video encounter so we can meet your ongoing healthcare needs. This is for your safety and so we can provide the highest quality of care to you while following CDC guidance for COVID-19. Please call 617-427-1000 for any questions or concerns.

Whittier will provide COVID-19 testing from 10 am to 4 pm on Monday to Friday. Following CDC guidance, we recommend testing if you have a fever AND one of the following three symptoms: cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat. Please bring your picture identification and your insurance card (if you have insurance).