Jeff Roman, Executive Director of the Office on African American Affairs, Milwaukee County; Ericka Sinclair, CEO, Health Connections, Inc.; Christine Cordova, Public Health Nurse, North Shore Health Department; DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake; Dennis Skrajewski, Executive Director, Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinics at the Vaccine Community Outreach event hosted by Health Connections, Inc.

By Ana Martinez-Ortiz

It’s been two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. When one looks back, those two years seem both incredibly long and unbelievably short. The nation’s survival is thanks to the health care providers and organizations committed to serving communities.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently embarked on a ‘Thank you’ tour across the state to honor frontline workers and organizations. The tour made a stop in Milwaukee to thank Health Connections at the Milwaukee County Lincoln Park Pavilion, 1301 W. Hampton Ave., on Tuesday, March 22.

Health Connections is a nonprofit organization that provides health care services to communities in need. The organization, which is known for its work with HIV prevention and transgender health care, did the work that needed to be done during the pandemic.

Health Connections efforts during the pandemic, in addition to its usual care services, included COVID testing and vaccinations. Community members could receive these services at the organization’s COVID tent or through homebound services.

“We did this work because it needed to get done,” Ericka Sinclair, the CEO of Health Connections, said. “We do this work because it’s where our hearts are, and the community is where we live and work and play and pray. It’s also where we exist and belong and because it’s where we exist and belong, it’s what we need to take care of.”

Christine Cordova is a public health nurse with the North Shore Health Department. Cordova praised Sinclair and Health Connections’ efforts.

“It was a huge service to the community,” Cordova said, adding that Health Connections worked with individuals who have distrusted health providers in the past.

In the State of Wisconsin, there are 91 free clinics, Dennis Skrajewski said, these clinics including Health Connections serve the uninsured and the underinsured.

Skrajewski is the executive director of Wisconsin Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

During his remarks, he told the story of the initiative Project Finish Line, in which free clinics across the state banded together to fight the pandemic. Wisconsin was one of several states to join this initiative.

Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake poses with Milwaukee community health care leaders after a roundtable discussion at the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center.

Through this effort, Wisconsin clinics have administered over 33,000 vaccines, Skrajewski said.

Jeff Roman, the executive director of the Office on African American Affairs for Milwaukee County, also made some remarks. He noted that Milwaukee County is excited to be a partner in this work.

“We understand the value of having people who look like the communities, who are most impacted by these communities, leading and guiding that work,” he said.

Roman said when the pandemic began, Milwaukee County purposefully engaged community leaders and organizations that had reach and credibility in vulnerable communities.

“Health Connections is not doing anything new you all,” Roman said. “They are going above and beyond to respond to the needs of the communities as they have been doing for years and years and years.”

Karen Timberlake, the secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, noted during her remarks that after the loss, stress and trauma of the past two years, people are ready to celebrate.

When it came to sharing resources and information, like Milwaukee County, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services turned to the trusted voices in the community to spread the word.

Timberlake explained that the work done these past two years, which include addressing racial disparities in health care and more, will be used to navigate future challenges.
Sinclair closed the remarks with a quote from Maya Angelou.

“‘I think a hero is any person intent on making this a better place for all people,’” Sinclair said, adding, “I appreciate and I’m grateful to share space with so many people who are heroes and sheroes in the house.”