The Lamont administration is partnering with a Hartford-based firm experienced in running Democratic political campaigns to create and manage a 71-person “vaccine campaign team” that will canvass city neighborhoods this summer, urging residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Grossman Solutions, which already has a state contract through Access Health CT, a quasi-public state agency, will be paid from a $24 million fund of federal money the state is receiving as part of a Biden administration effort to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Under a memorandum of agreement between the Department of Public Health and Access Health CT, a second company with a current state contract, Faneuil, Inc., also will receive federal funding to operate call center services to support the Vaccine Appointment Assist Line (or the “VAAL”) while Grossman Solutions will be tasked with outreach to raise awareness and encourage individuals across Connecticut to get vaccinated.
The budget for call center support is $5,300,000, and the budget for outreach, including door-to-door canvassing in 10 cities, is for a maximum of $2,900,000, state officials said.
“Our continued goal is to ensure that every resident of Connecticut who wants a shot gets a shot, especially our residents in underserved and vulnerable communities,” Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said in a press release Friday.
“Access Health CT is a natural partner in this effort, with existing resources, infrastructure and experience in conducting outreach efforts in hard-to-reach, underserved communities. Access Health CT is also already a close partner with the state in operating an eligibility call center, and this MOA builds on that existing partnership,” she said. “Soon, we will be able to deploy outreach workers to go door-to-door in our high SVI communities to talk directly with residents about the importance of vaccination, what to expect before during and after vaccination and to assist with information on available local clinics and access to transportation to those clinics.”
In advertisements posted this week for a “vaccine campaign manager,” Grossman Solutions said it is working “in partnership with the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health” to create from scratch “a grassroots outreach campaign to increase the number of Connecticut residents who receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“The campaign is focused on communicating directly with, and answering questions of residents high on the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), majority African American and Latino neighborhoods and communities. Ultimately, this campaign will assist individuals in scheduling appointments and help them access the vaccine,” the posting said.
In addition to a campaign manager, Grossman Solutions is hiring a canvass supervisor, canvassers, a data coordinator, an operations director and a quality control officer. The job postings indicate the vaccine campaign will start immediately.
Even as Gov. Ned Lamont announced Thursday the state’s plan to accelerate the vaccine timeline for the youngest eligibility group, the job postings indicate the state’s vaccine rollout will last past the spring. According to Grossman’s job postings, the positions will last until Labor Day.
Although most of the postings do not list salaries, the part-time canvasser positions will pay $23 an hour.
The campaign will be focused on 10 cities — Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Hartford, Waterbury, Norwalk, Danbury, New Britain, Bristol and Meriden.
State officials have struggled to reach the minority populations in the state’s cities, which are lagging behind in terms of percentage of residents who have been vaccinated. They have asked vaccinators to target at least 26% of their weekly doses to residents who reside in ZIP codes on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social vulnerability index.
While the vaccine numbers in many of the cities on the state’s list have improved, the progress has been slow. At his Thursday press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont referenced the new door-to-door campaign without getting into specifics when he talked about $58 million the state will be spending to address vaccine inequities.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to make sure that the folks who are most vulnerable get vaccinated, and this is becoming increasingly important as J&J (Johnson & Johnson) and others ramp up the amount of vaccines that are available to us,” Lamont said. “Pretty soon, supply will hit demand, and at that point we really got to go out there and do everything we can to convince you, convince your friends to get vaccinated. And so you’re going to see a ramped up effort over the course of the next few weeks in order to do that.”
The money for the vaccine outreach will come from the federal government, Lamont and Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said Thursday.
“Those are cooperative agreements with the CDC, that our team and Department of Public Health is responsible for helping to prioritize administering,” Geballe said.
The state has been using federally-allocated funds for COVID projects, and the program aligns with what President Joe Biden said on Thursday during his first press conference about eliminating vaccine hesitancy among minorities.
The Biden administration announced the federal recovery bill helped fund a massive $3 billion effort to strengthen vaccine confidence. That funding will be dispersed to states and some large cities “enabling them to support local health departments and community-based organizations in launching new programs and initiatives intended to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake. This funding will focus on reaching communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including those with a high social vulnerability index, minority communities, and rural areas.”
It is not yet clear how much is headed for Connecticut and its large cities, but the awards will be made in early April.
When announcing the effort yesterday, the White House gave several examples of the type of programs this funding could go toward, including faith-based organizations and food assistance programs to conduct door-to-door outreach and to help schedule vaccination appointments at a community health center.
Geballe said other states have also struggled to reach minority populations in the cities. He said the new initiative will build upon efforts many vaccinators are already making, such as using pastors and church leaders to promote the vaccine and holding pop-up clinics at churches and other locations to increase access.
“It is about ensuring that there’s access that is easily available for everyone who wants vaccine,” Geballe said. “That’s the $58 million in investments that the governor announced that will build upon very similar activities that have already been going on in many of these communities, bringing vaccine to churches, to community centers, people now are going door to door, doing outbound calling, reserving appointment slots for people. But there’s much more that we need to do.”
Grossman’s job description for the campaign manager spells out the breadth and complexity of the program.
“The manager will lead a 70-person team in executing all components of the outreach plan and canvass, coordinate with other state stakeholders working on outreach and communications efforts, and coordinate with the team managing mobile and pop-up clinic locations. The manager will also recommend and implement strategic data-driven recommendations and ensure that all campaign goals are met,” the job description states.
“The ideal candidate is able to implement, direct, and be accountable for all aspects of this complicated statewide campaign while making strategic and innovative adjustments to improve results. They work well under pressure and can adapt in a fast-paced campaign environment. They are also able to effectively manage staff, motivating them to ensure all campaign goals are met.”
Grossman Solutions was known as Grossman Heinz until recently. Its website states “Grossman Solutions works at the intersection of politics, people, and policy.”
Andrew Grossman, who runs the firm, could not be reached for comment Friday morning.
The group handled the campaign of Attorney General William Tong, who was elected in 2018 along with Lamont. It also represented former Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman in her bid for Congress.
It has represented an eclectic group of non-profit agencies, politicians and unions, from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and MGM Resorts International, which fought against a third tribal casino in Connecticut a few years ago.