The availability of accurate COVID-19 and other public health related information that is culturally and linguistically relevant is essential to keeping communities safe. Messages change rapidly, and some health departments may face challenges with developing health messaging that reaches all communities, particularly refugees, immigrants, and migrants.
Importance of Community Contractors
Engaging community-based organizations (CBOs) and media vendors is an effective way to create and distribute guidance that reaches communities in languages they best understand with added cultural context.
Community contractors can provide trusted, timely, and culturally relevant health information to diverse communities by leveraging established relationships and knowledge of the communities they serve. They also can reach community members through others forms communication outside of mainstream media and news. This greatly benefits residents with limited English proficiency to have timely access to messages related to COVID-19.
Partnering with Community Partners in Minnesota
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) cumulatively partnered with more than 180 diverse media vendors and CBOs to increase community understanding of and engagement around COVID-19 and community recovery among communities of color and refugee, immigrant, migrant communities, LGBTQ residents, Indigenous communities, and persons living with disabilities in the state. This was an unprecedented level of funding to community in terms of total investment and number of contractors. Additionally, new ways of administering the grant application and funding process were employed, including having organizations apply in a more simplified process as well as experimenting with different funding and payment models to support organizations that didn’t have the initial capital to increase their capacity.
The partnership between MDH and the community contractors extends beyond funding. Each community-based organization or diverse media vendor was partnered with a contract manager at MDH to ensure they always have a responsive entry point into the department. The contract managers work collaboratively with the respective MDH cultural community liaison team to provide an open line of communication between the MDH COVID-19 response team and community partners and media vendors. MDH subject experts were able to provide technical assistance to the contractors through dialogue, resource creation in response to questions, and co-presenting to communities. This partnership allows them to distribute information and respond to questions and concerns from their communities. Additionally, meetings were also held for culturally similar community orgs and media vendors with their respective grant manager and community liaison team. For example, the MDH African Immigrant Community Liaison team and respective contract managers would host recurring meetings with the African-immigrant-serving CBOs and media vendors. This was beneficial to facilitate awareness of each other’s work in the community, to avoid duplication, and promote collaboration, as well as stay up-to-date on the latest health information and share feedback and questions from community members.
Achievements and Beyond the Pandemic
Evaluation data from 2022 confirm how this community engagement model has had a wide reach across diverse communities in Minnesota. It strengthened MDH relationship with community partners, built trust, and promoted community participation in responding to the impact of the pandemic. Community organizations felt that the funding process was more inclusive and reduced barriers for newer organizations and communities.
The evaluation data showed how the community contractors’ existing relationships, as well as their intimate knowledge of the communities they serve, enabled them to provide effective, accurate, and consistent health related information in a timely manner. This was extremely important by intentionally reaching communities that have been historically underserved due to racism and systemic inequities in the state, and communities who may not trust messages coming directly from the state.
Beyond the pandemic, this community engagement model continues to have a significant impact for MDH in promoting health equity across communities. The agency is currently granting to diverse media and community-based organizations to reduce inequities in COVID-19, including vaccination rates and overall community recovery from the pandemic. Furthermore, this model is being applied to other funding to communities to address longstanding disparities, using lessons learned from the innovation employed during the response.