The National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants in 2021 funded an innovative pilot program so that Steele County Public Health, with help from CHW Solutions, could ensure equitable access to public health information to immigrant communities in their area.
Steele County is a rural county in southern Minnesota with just over 35,000 people, located approximately one hour south of Minneapolis. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Steele County Public Health Department knew it had to broaden COVID-19 vaccine access and uptake among the Somali and Latino communities in the area, and that Community Health Workers (CHWs) would be best positioned to do just that.
In the pilot, CHWs from the HealthFinders Collaborative paired off with public health nurses from the county to conduct home visits in the local Somali community. The pairs provided culturally and linguistically relevant health information and services, including COVID-19 vaccination, education, co-occurring services and referrals. The pilot was successful; in addition to increased vaccine uptake, the community benefitted from other public health initiatives like carseat education and WIC referrals. Steele County wanted to bring CHWs on permanently and expand to Latino communities in the area.
However, a shortage of certified CHWs in the rural community meant they had to think creatively. When CHWs are not certified, and their services are not eligible for reimbursement through medical assistance (MA), meaning the county would not have a sustainable way to pay for the initiative.
Establishing a sustainable plan to recruit and certify CHWs from refugee, immigrant, and migrant communities is crucial. Steele County is working with health systems and community partners to find solutions to this issue. In the meantime, the county continues to provide interpretation services, health fairs, lead testing and immunization clinics in Somali and Latino communities in the area. Eventually they would like to purchase a mobile unit to provide health services throughout the county.