In the COVID-19 response, partnerships are essential to reaching refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities, maximizing resources, reducing duplicative efforts, and improving the delivery of services and resources. Collaboration allows limited federal, state, and local resources to be targeted and allocated to areas that need the resources most. Likewise, it is also essential to provide information and services via channels that community members actively use and trust.
Reaching RIM Communities through Schools
K-12 schools serve as community resources to assist students and families who are refugees, immigrants and migrants, and they are deeply rooted in their communities. Schools are uniquely positioned to bridge cultural and linguistic knowledge gaps for health departments; families are used to receiving information about a range of important topics from schools, so schools can help with outreach and education about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
Some communities also have school-based navigators, liaisons, or social workers who help families learn about available resources, including housing, transportation, employment options, and access to healthcare. Health departments are partnering with schools to provide services across the continuum COVID-19 prevention and mitigation. They often have pop-up and vaccine and testing sites, established case investigation and contact tracing practices, community-based interpreters, and liaisons who offer social support. Ways to build partnerships with the RIM school community include:
- Build formal relationships with the school district’s central office to leverage your health department’s ability to support outreach and communication efforts
- When on-site vaccination clinics aren’t a possibility, consider working with schools to provide resources and information about opportunities to get vaccinated
- Connect with Refugee Service Providers and State Refugee Health Coordinators, as they often provide supplemental assistance to students from RIM communities through technology access, tutoring, summer programs, and translated materials
Partnering with Schools in Maine
Northern Light Home Health & Hospice, a non-profit medical organization in Maine, has been successfully partnering with schools since 2009 to host on-site vaccination clinics for seasonal flu, H1N1 flu (swine flu), and now COVID-19. These clinics not only increase access for school-aged children, but also for their families and school staff. Cathy Bean, Manager of Community Health Services, says, “While we’re at the schools we’ll vaccinate everyone… if there’s a teacher who, for some reason, didn’t get a dose, or someone says, ‘can I bring a sibling?’ Our motto is we always say yes.” Since the COVID-19 vaccine has become available to children, Northern Light Home Health & Hospice has been providing information translated into several languages and enlisting the help of school nurses to field questions from parents. They continue to provide first-doses of the vaccine and are available to community members that attend events at school campuses with partnered clinics.
Schools also serve as a key touchpoint for many community members and provide a great targeted outreach outlet for public health messaging. Northern Light can provide vaccines for the whole family within the school setting. Especially for those in General Assistance Hotels, where newly arrived families are still awaiting permanent housing and still do not have access to primary care, school located vaccine clinics are key for those families to access vaccines.
“The location is a trust thing, too,” Bean adds. “A school is a trusted environment…people can go where they feel comfortable, instead of saying you have to come to us, to our mass vaccination site.”
Partnering with Schools in Virginia
In Virginia, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) partners with the Henrico County Health Department and the Henrico County K-12 school district in performing outreach and community education. They believe that schools are central to COVID-19 outreach, so translated materials are distributed to the community through the school district. Some schools have liaisons that translate health department materials into additional languages while also adding culturally-appropriate information. Families with children enrolled in the school district can receive updated school and health information in their preferred languages, daily. In addition to sending health information updates via text and Facebook, the school district also began holding regular Zoom meetings to update families about COVID-19 in multiple languages with interpretation services provided through the IRC and health department.
Leveraging School-Based Clinics in Washington
HealthPoint, a federally-qualified health center (FQHC) in King County, Washington, collaborates with Seattle and King County Public Health Departments, and King County Schools to improve healthcare access and health equity in their RIM communities by offering school-based health centers. Before COVID-19, they provided vaccinations, primary care, mental health counseling, health screening and education, and other services in their school-based clinics. Since COVID-19, the school-based clinics have added easy-access outdoor testing at primary care clinics and high-volume outdoor testing centers open to their community members. People who are positive for COVID-19 are matched with FQHC patient access coordinators/patient navigators who connect them to support services and quarantine facilities through the health department.
Partnering with Schools in Iowa
Linn County Public Health partners with school nurses and RIM community school liaisons as trusted resources for referrals and health communications. Community health providers can provide culturally- and linguistically-appropriate health information to the school partners, sharing resources with students and parents. The relationship also builds trust to support the case investigation and contact tracing (CICT) process. For example, when Linn County Public Health calls as parent or guardian at home for CICT, the parent will often ask the school liaison whether it is safe to respond, according to Heather Meador, clinical branch supervisor. The liaison can explain the CICT process and reassure the parent that the health department is just trying to help. “They help bridge a [knowledge] gap,” said Meador. The school liaisons and nurses provide a critical communication link between the health department and the schools when there are investigations of COVID-19 cases and close contacts