Reaching populations that are most impacted by COVID-19 with resources and education is critical, particularly for refugees, immigrants, and migrants (RIM), communities of color, American Indian communities, and LGBTQ communities. Trusted messengers and tailored outreach are especially essential to a successful partnership with these communities due to distrust of government, historical trauma, and linguistic needs.
Establishing a Team
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) brought together staff from across the agency to serve as Community Liaisons. These employees are MDH staff who also personally identify with communities most impacted by inequities. The Community Liaison teams consist of members of African American communities, African communities, American Indian communities, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, Latino communities, LGBTQ communities, and recently arrived immigrant and refugee communities. Community Liaisons build relationships with community members, elevate communities’ needs to MDH decision-makers, convene with community partners, collaborate with local public health officials, and connect external partners and individuals to resources and opportunities. Importantly, their lived experience in their communities also for genuine, open conversations resulting in valuable two-way communication and trust-building.
Impact of Two-Way Communication
Community Liaisons have found their roles to be impactful in connecting community members with resources and information. Because of their relationships in communities and at MDH, Community Liaisons can listen to authentic concerns people are facing, route the questions to the best-suited area of the health department to identify a solution, and ensure that community members receive a response. Community Liaisons have also been key collaborators across many areas of the MDH COVID-19 response because of their community engagement expertise, and agency-wide partners always know where to go to get input on reaching communities most impacted by inequities. A few major successes of the Community Liaisons so far have been:
- Supporting and strategizing around welcoming, community-based testing sites
- Advocating for more testing sites in trusted community locations
- Addressing urgent, real-time concerns in communities
- Informing the case investigation and contact tracing (CICT) plan to include key data collection requested by communities
- Assisting the communications team with developing culturally relevant guidance and messages
Quenter Ramogi, African Community Liaison, has witnessed how this community engagement model has built trust in community because liaisons have lived experience and they prioritize finding the solutions that already exist in the community.
Lensa Terfa, African Community Liaison, sees the Community Liaison model as successful at reaching people that public health has failed to reach in the past.
Betty Hiller shares her experience as an African American Community Liaison during COVID-19, highlighting the importance of working with trusted partners.