Community Liaisons to Connect Health Departments with Communities

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, ongoing and 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 (CL). 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 Immigrant communities, American Indian communities, Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities, Latino communities, LGBTQ+ communities, disability communities, faith-based 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. Their lived experience in their communities is pivotal for fostering 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. Apart from COVID-19, they have also been key in elevating and advocating for broader community health concerns such as mental health and well-being. 

A few major successes of the Community Liaisons were:

  • Supporting and strategizing around welcoming, culturally sensitive, community-based testing and vaccination sites
  • Advocating for more testing and vaccination 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

Evaluation data below shows the positive and sustainable impact of specific Community Liaisons teams beyond the pandemic:

  • The disability CL team ensured that MDH response work included a focus on disability through advocacy and engagement to improve accessibility of persons with disabilities to testing and vaccination resources. They also championed the creation of the Disability Advisory and Accessibility Workgroup to de-silo and enhance the work being done at the agency on behalf of people with disabilities to promote collaboration as well as policy and system change. 
  • The LGBTQ+ CL team advocated and provided guidance to MDH in development of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity questions for data collection and providing extensive knowledge on community needs, which can be utilized for data collection now beyond COVID. 
  • Latino CL team mobilized an entire community leadership council representing the voice of Latino community to facilitate and hold discussions in Spanish, that has continued and broadened their efforts since the height of the pandemic.
  • The Asian and Pacific Islander CL team facilitated ongoing relationships with community and government agencies allowing for cross-sectional work with LPH, city and local governments and community groups/leaders.
  • The American Indian CL team created a Basecamp where information could be shared out, but also had a channel for two-way communication between community and CLs. The team now hosts monthly Infectious disease calls with the tribes and American Indian urban partners to share information and discuss COVID as well as other infectious diseases impacting indigenous communities.
  • The African immigrant CL team developed and strengthened external partnerships including LPH, other state agencies, and community partners in the metro and Greater MN. They also connected external partners and individuals to non-COVID related resources and opportunities that continue to benefit and help build capacity.  
  • The African American CL team brought individual community connections and lived experience in key decision making when allocating grant funding to trusted community organizations (Black Nurses Rock, Stairstep, etc.). These organizations are now partners for non-COVID work as well.



Silhouette of person with medical uniform

Dai Vu, leader of the Community Liaison team, provides an overview of the structure and purpose of the Community Liaison team, including some specific examples of successes.

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.

Mattie Laidlaw, LGBTQ Minnesota Department of Health Community Liaison, reflects on the value of working with their own networks in community to build upon existing connections to reach the LGBTQ community with COVID-19 messaging.

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.