During the recent general election, the Health Sciences Campus pulled double duty by serving as both a vote center for the first time and a place for people to get free flu shots. Nearly 400 individuals cast their ballots in person at the center, located on the first floor of the Soto 1 building, and 62 adults and children received flu shots.

“The five-day voting period ran very smoothly, and was a wonderful opportunity for us to help get out the vote, protect people against the flu and connect with our community,” said Annette Gibson, director of ambulatory care for women’s health at Keck Medicine of USC, who was the driving force behind securing the location and organizing the vote center.

Voters were greeted by a colorful balloon arch outside the building and were offered complimentary bottles of hand sanitizer once inside. In addition to in-person voting, the center also accepted countless vote-by-mail ballots in a secure dropbox.

For some, the day marked the first time they had voted in an election. Several families voted together, including a father and his two adult children who had not planned on voting. They changed their minds at the insistence of the youngest in the family, a 13-year-old son, who had learned of the vote center on-line. “I cannot vote, so all you have to vote,” he told his dad and siblings.

Many health system staff, faculty and students also cast their votes at the Soto location, happy for the convenience of voting near work.

Several parents brought in their children to receive flu shots, and one 51-year-old woman received the first flu vaccine of her life. “She had heard that the shot was painful and made people sick,” Gibson said. “She was happily surprised that the shot didn’t hurt and, two days later, let us know she felt fine.”

The health system’s involvement in the election, a joint effort between Keck Medicine and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, came together quickly at the end of September.

Gibson, who is active in local voting rights, was contacted by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office because the county needed another polling place in the health system’s ZIP code, 90033, and was hoping Keck Medicine could fill the gap. Within two days, the Keck Medicine leadership team signed off on the idea, and the vote center was a go.

Establishing a vote center on such short notice was a collaborative effort by many at the health system, such as staff from nursing, marketing and communications, human resources, events, security and operations.

“I am very thankful to everyone who mobilized so quickly to make the vote center a reality, including support we received from colleagues at the University of Southern California,” said Smitha Ravipudi, MPH, chief executive officer of USC Care and Ambulatory Care Services for Keck Medicine, who also leads Keck Medicine’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion steering committee. “I want to give a special thank you to Annette, who not only made the vote center possible in a traditionally underserved area, but was on-site every day it was open and personally greeted voters.”

Keck Medicine interim CEO Rod Hanners also expressed his appreciation for the election effort.

“The vote center is a great example of our core values of community, collaboration and teamwork,” he said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our community and to all of those who made the vote center a success.”

— Alison Rainey