THU AM News: Madison tech company launches vaccination digital tool; Health department for Shawano, Menominee counties aims to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates

— A Madison-based health technology company called SDM Analytics has launched a free digital tool aimed at getting more minority populations vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The new tool, called Own Your Decision, can be used on a tablet or desktop computer, and can be used in patient homes, doctors’ offices or other health care settings. It includes educational videos featuring minority speakers, as well as information from Black doctors and nurses, according to a release. 

“African Americans, Latinos and Native American are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with higher rates of infection, hospitalization and deaths,” said founder Daniel Guerra Jr. in a statement. “It’s time we create decision-making tools that build trust with diverse communities and respect patients of color with the ability to own their decisions.”

SDM Analytics was created by Guerra in July 2020 to develop web-based shared decision-making aids for the health care industry. The company also has an application programming interface that third-party developers can use to develop their own digital tools. 

The company’s platform is meant for health care groups, nonprofits, health consultants and others in the industry who benefit from these decision guidance tools. They can be used by patients, health care providers and caregivers in disease treatment, and can be provided on paper or through digital platforms. 

According to a release, these tools can “encourage people to take a more active role in their health care” by involving them in some treatment decisions. SDM Analytics will continue to develop other decision-guidance tools in the coming year. 

Guerra is a board member of the Latino Professionals Association of Greater Madison. He and his team developed the tool with support from the national Allergy & Asthma Network, which is based in Washington, D.C. 

See the release: 

— As COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue around the state, the joint health department for Shawano and Menominee counties is running a public information campaign to get more residents protected against the virus. 

“Our role is to combat negative myths about the vaccine with good, credible information,” said Nick Mau, assistant health director for the department. “We try to provide a good voice for logic and reason, and allow people to make informed decisions.” 

In a recent interview, Mau explained that Facebook is a commonly used method for communication for the local community, though that popularity can be a double-edged sword. 

On one hand, the health department is using the platform to make frequent posts advocating for vaccination and testing. But at the same time, misinformation about available vaccines can easily be spread through Facebook and other social media. 

“The politics of COVID, even from the beginning of the pandemic, have really gotten in the way of making informed decisions,” Mau said. “Some people are really just sticking to their point and aren’t willing to have that vaccine.” 

In order to avoid getting tangled in the political discussions surrounding the virus, Mau said the health department is trying to reach people on a more personal level. Aside from the health benefits of the vaccine, he said messaging has focused on social and professional angles, such as how getting vaccinated can help people avoid taking time off work due to getting sick. 

“It gets hammered in by the feds that it’s scientifically safe, that’s one thing, but [we’re] speaking to the community level in a way that’s understandable and relatable,” he said. 

Aside from social media, the health department has been running several radio ads to drive vaccinations, and has a monthly radio spot on the local WTCH radio station’s Friday morning program. 

— From the early days of vaccine availability, the Shawano/Menominee counties public health department has modeled its approach on that of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. 

Shawano County has a population of 40,899, and 37 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the virus. To the northeast, the smaller Menominee County has 4,556 residents, and 52 percent of that population has gotten at least one shot; that’s slightly higher than the statewide rate. 

The majority of Menominee County’s population is made up of Menominee tribal members. Mau said tribal leadership has been doing “an excellent job” of getting their residents vaccinated, particularly among critical populations. 

For example, Mau noted that Menominee County has gotten 94 percent of residents 65 and older vaccinated with at least one shot. In Shawano County, that number is 69 percent. 

The health department hosted a vaccination clinic between February and May of this year. Mau said officials first toured an existing clinic run by the tribe. That clinic has worked to remove barriers to vaccination such as transportation issues for tribal members. 

“They’ve been the model for providing the vaccine, at least in our community,” Mau said. 

Going forward, the joint health department will be focused on reaching those who are “on the fence” about getting vaccinated. Mau says he’s hopeful that segment of the population will come around on the vaccines once the current emergency use period ends and the FDA grants its full approval. 

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced that a program for those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will start covering some households’ internet costs.

The state received over $322 million in the first round of emergency rental assistance from the feds. Of that, DOA has administered $38 million in rental and utility aid to nearly 11,000 households affected by the pandemic.

“The past year and a half has underscored the fact that access to affordable high-speed internet is a necessity to how we live, learn, and work,” Evers said in a release. “This additional resource coupled with our recent announcement of Broadband Access funding across the state should go a long way toward helping folks remain connected, make ends meet, and bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Wisconsinites are eligible for the program if anyone in their household qualifies for unemployment benefits or their household income is at or below 80 percent of county median income. The program also covers Wisconsinites who are at risk of homelessness or have experienced pandemic-driven financial hardship.

See more in the PM Update: 

— Graduates from the Milwaukee School of Engineering have the highest average starting salaries among Wisconsin’s major colleges and universities, according to a recent study from New York-based SmartAsset. 

The study shows the average starting salary for these graduates is $67,800. That’s higher than the average for: UW-Madison, which is $59,100; UW-Platteville, with $58,900; and Marquette University, with $58,700. 

The Wisconsin findings are part of a national study that also looked at tuition and student living costs. 

See the full study here: 

— The startup accelerator gener8tor has hired Tonnetta Carter as the organization’s first associate director of investments. 

Carter is a finance and philanthropy specialist who previously worked on the Medical College of Wisconsin’s $300 million Hope to Health campaign. She’s also an Army veteran and is part of the Board of Veteran Affairs for the State of Wisconsin. 

According to a release, she will head the Madison-based accelerator’s market expansion and will manage its global investor network as well as fundraising efforts for investment funds. 

See the release:–venture-capital-fund-gener8tor-hires-finance–giving-expert-as-organizations-first-investment-director-301326511.html 


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