The Rx Foundation provided two grants of $25,000 each to New Direction Health Care Solutions in Knoxville, TN, as part of the foundation’s Vaccine Equity/Vaccine Plus program, based on a recommendation by trusted partners at the Tennessee Health Care Campaign. The two grants set the organization on a new trajectory, dramatically increasing its capacity to educate, test, and vaccinate Black and rural communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, positioning the organization to win a $1.4 million contract with the State of Tennessee, and enabling it to pursue its vision of becoming a health research institute. Both grants reveal the many benefits that accrue from supporting community-based and community-led health efforts with flexible funding.
New Direction Health Care Solutions is a Black-led nonprofit founded in 2017 to conduct health education outreach and assist those who dream of starting health-related businesses. Its VACImpact initiative was created to inform, engage, and build trust in communities of color in connection with taking the COVID vaccine. The organization is led by Founder and President Cynthia Finch, who has extensive experience in health care, having co-founded, and later sold, a home health company that grew to have 3800 employees.
The first of the two Rx Foundation grants, awarded in 2021, was the largest grant that the organization had ever received. It was larger than the organization’s budget at the time. It catapulted the organization forward.
The grant enabled New Direction Health Care Solutions to ramp up dramatically its COVID-19 education, testing, and vaccination efforts in Greater Knoxville. It enabled the purchasing of more popup tents, paid for signage for testing sites, provided incentives for more than 300 volunteers including free pizza and reimbursement for travel costs. It leveraged $15,000 in funding from the United Way and enabled the organization to prove its sustainability when pursuing a state contract.
When vaccines became available, New Direction Health Care Solutions partnered with a pharmacist and a physician who had the infrastructure to order, receive, and house vaccines. New Direction Health Care Solutions already had the nurses to administer the shots and the staff to manage the vaccinations. It could then provide vaccinations in nine contiguous counties.
The second grant from the Rx Foundation enabled the organization to move into larger space and sustain itself. New Direction Health Care Solutions now has five employees, aggressive education and outreach programs, and a formal relationship with Tennessee Wesleyan University, whose undergraduate nursing students provide services at the organization’s free medical clinic partner and whose graduate nursing students spend time at the organization learning about the health needs of Black and rural communities. The organization has now embarked on a path to become a health research institute: to illuminate and address health disparities and, in Ms. Finch’s words, “Not just have conversations – resolve things.”
In recognition of her leadership, Ms. Finch was honored by USA Today in 2022 as its Woman of the Year in Tennessee for her efforts to encourage COVID-19 vaccination and make it accessible during the pandemic. In the process she has built relationships that continue to benefit the organization and to inspire.
The administrator of the local children’s hospital, for instance, stopped by one day to see the vaccines being administered by New Direction Health Care Solutions. When he saw the number of children waiting to be vaccinated, he went back to his car, pulled out his white coat and joined in administering the vaccines. The next day, Ms. Finch said, “He was there before I was. Now I can call him whenever I need to.”
Around the same time, Ms. Finch was approached by a woman while shopping for groceries at Kroger’s. The woman said, “You’re the lady who saves lives. My grandmother got a vaccine because of you.”