ROCHESTER, NY – Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza have appointed Nancy “Nana” Bennett, MD, MS as Special Advisor to the Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health. In this role, Dr. Bennett will lead the Monroe County vaccination task force and spearhead Monroe County’s COVID-19 vaccination planning and coordination efforts. County Executive Bello has also selected Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health, to lead community engagement and education efforts for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Dr. Bennett and Mr. Norwood will work together to bring equity and fairness to the implementation of the vaccine distribution.

“The COVID-19 vaccination effort is going to be a massive undertaking unlike anything we’ve had to plan for before. Achieving the level of vaccination necessary in order to move this community beyond the pandemic is going to require an unprecedented level of coordination, education, and communication, and we must get this right.” said County Executive Bello. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have someone with Dr. Bennett’s unique skillset and expertise serving in this critically important role in Monroe County.”

“I am so pleased that Dr. Bennett is stepping into this role. She is a nationally recognized expert with a wealth of experience in medicine, research, public health and immunization practices. In addition, she has long demonstrated her commitment to equity in healthcare and prevention, focusing much of her efforts on underserved communities. I have no doubt that her contributions will be critical to our success as we strive to protect our entire community against COVID-19,” said Dr. Mendoza.

Dr. Bennett is the Founder and Director of the Center for Community Health and Prevention, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, a role she has held since its inception in 2006. She also serves as Co-Director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and as Professor of Medicine and Public Health Science at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

From 2015-2018, Nana served as Chair of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Dr. Bennett also served as Monroe County Deputy Public Health Director from 1992-2009. She has directed studies and community interventions funded by the NIH, CDC, NYSDOH, and national and regional foundations related to the prevention of communicable and chronic disease.

“We are facing an unprecedented challenge, and I am looking forward to joining the strong team at Monroe County to help ensure that vaccine is available to every resident of our community. We must deliver the vaccine to all in an efficient and equitable manner to return our lives to normal.  I am grateful for the opportunity to pitch in and help,” said Dr. Bennett.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the disparities that exist in our community, particularly when it comes to health care and public health. In his role leading community engagement, Mr. Norwood will work to improve public education and awareness about the importance and safety of the COVID-19 vaccination.

Wade Norwood has more than three decades of experience in leadership roles in public service, education and health care. He has served in management at Common Ground Health since 2006 and is central to the organization’s strategic planning process. Mr. Norwood has also spearheaded the Common Ground’s efforts to engage underserved populations in health improvement, championing the creation of the African American and Latino health coalitions and leading major research initiatives into the devastating impacts of poverty and racism on health in our region.

“Communities of color and folks living in poverty, particularly in rural communities have been forced to the front lines of this public health crisis with fewer resources to protect themselves, including being less likely to have sick leave, health care and jobs that allowed them to work from home. The result has been higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 among communities of color. At the same time, surveys show that those same communities are particularly wary of the new COVID-19 vaccines. Working with community organizations and trusted leaders, we will provide the transparency and education all residents need to make informed decisions to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said Norwood.

“We are not naïve to the fact that there are a lot of questions and concerns surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination. Wade’s boots-on-the-ground grassroots approach to answering questions and interacting with the community will be a critical part of our public outreach and education. As we continue to learn more about the vaccination implementation, we want to be sure it is being distributed in a fair and equitable manner, and are appreciative that Wade Norwood has agreed to help us in this effort,” concluded Bello.