A coalition of Orange County health clinics — who helped the County of Orange lower Covid infection rates in North and Central OC — are raising alarm bells about a new $20 million coronavirus vaccination expansion effort up for approval Tuesday.

County supervisors could choose to build a new neighborhood vaccination clinic infrastructure if they approve a $20 million contract with multiple unnamed vendors Tuesday.

Yet community clinic leaders say they already have a built-out vaccination network that can be expanded – one that has been proven and perfected over the past year’s pandemic. 

There are also mounting questions about why county supervisors would not strengthen the existing community clinic system. 

Isabel Becerra, CEO of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers, said nobody from the county approached the clinics.

There are over 20 health centers, spread out across the most diverse and working class neighborhoods in OC.

“Nope, not at all. Not even a nod to the efforts that have already been underway,” Becerra said in a Friday phone interview.

“It’s amazing to me that they’re not looking at the obvious partners in the community,” she added.

Many local health centers and community organizations are scrambling for more funding after being left out of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget. 

Read: OC’s Local Clinics and Community Groups Look For More Funding as Proposed State Budget Leaves Them Behind

“Not even a courtesy notice about this change and about this new direction so that we could, really, have a discussion,” Becerra said. “Why fund a brand new infrastructure if we already built that network?”

County health officials didn’t respond to questions Friday about whether or not they reached out to the clinics.

But a top health official said the vendors for the expansion haven’t been decided yet – with a request for proposals forthcoming.

“The OC Health Care Agency (HCA) is seeking to support, not replace, the amazing work our community partners are doing to promote vaccination against COVID-19,” said Dr. Margaret Bredehoft, deputy director of public health services at the OC Health Care Agency.

Yet the public agenda documents paint a different picture – saying the supervisors would be voting Tuesday on authorizing the contracts to be signed.

“The vendors are not listed on this [vaccination expansion] agenda item because they have not been selected — we’re asking the Orange County Board of Supervisors to consider allowing the HCA to extend a Request for Information to interested parties.”

The public agenda documents usually mention if such a process is envisioned. 

Not this time.

It doesn’t say how the vendors were, or will be, chosen – just that supervisors are authorizing county staff to sign the contracts.

Public agendas also usually name who the county is agreeing to pay taxpayer money, when supervisors are asked to approve a contract. 

That’s not the case with this contract either.

Early in the pandemic last year, the clinics and community groups partnered together to bring testing and isolation resources to Orange County’s hardest hit communities. 

Using that existing network, the groups pivoted to vaccinations earlier this year. 

For the expansion contract up for a vote Tuesday, agenda documents state the vendors will vaccinate up to 500 people each day in each of the five supervisorial districts throughout the county.

The county would be paying $40 per shot, plus $500 per day for each vaccination event. The county is likely to ultimately be reimbursed by federal or state funds.

OC’s most impacted neighborhoods will be prioritized, according to the staff report. 

Yet, the community health clinics are already located in OC’s hardest hit neighborhood and know where to direct vaccinations — along with the community organizations supporting those efforts. 

They also offer an existing health care network in neighborhoods that don’t often get access to medical care. 

“The clinics’ purpose is to serve this community and who have been in the community, in some cases, for over 50 years,” Becerra said.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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