Effective COVID-19 response among refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) populations requires relationships with communities. Each community’s success in achieving measurable and timely health outcomes is oftentimes based on the social determinants of health of the particular community. Ensuring health equity within RIM communities builds healthier and more resilient communities; this can be a challenge, particularly for certain communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Why Create A Health Equity Zone?
There may be some challenges in figuring out where to start when building or enhancing relationships with communities. One consideration for health departments is creating or engaging with a local health equity zone in your area. The purpose of a health equity zone is to create and equip neighbors and community partners with resources to foster a healthy and vibrant community for people to live, learn, work and play, thus addressing key social determinants of health in building healthier communities.
Rhode Island Department of Health Creates Health Equity Zone (HEZ) Initiative
The State of Rhode Island Department of Health created a Health Equity Zones (HEZ) Initiative which aims to utilize a health equity approach to address key public health challenges facing communities. This goal is achieved through fostering collaboration and input from communities into developing and sustaining innovative community-led approaches to address key health challenges, which may include prevention of chronic diseases; improving birth outcomes; and improving socioeconomic and environmental conditions of communities. These health equity zones have played an increasingly important role in addressing the COVID-19 crisis within Rhode Island’s RIM communities.
Different initiatives that have helped support the Health Equity Zones include the development and promotion of Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards, which serve as guidelines to address diverse languages, health beliefs, and health literacy levels within Rhode Island’s RIM communities. The promotion and dissemination of these tools has been instrumental in helping address language access barriers to limited English proficient populations.
Another critical example includes the use of Community Health Workers in helping achieve health equity within specific locales. Community Health Workers, oftentimes from the community, are equipped with the linguistic and cultural expertise in being able to navigate complex dynamics within RIM communities and understand the health literacy and concerns of their community members. The Health Equity Zone Initiative works to integrate more community health workers both into the health equity zone work as well as the COVID-19 response.