In the COVID-19 response, partnerships are essential to reach underserved communities, maximize resources, reduce duplicating efforts, and improve the delivery of services and resources. Refugee resettlement agencies and local health departments work independently and collaboratively to ensure that the people and communities they serve are healthy. Their collaboration allows limited resources to be leveraged to make collective impact and are appropriately targeted, so that people receive meaningful information through accessible means and trusted messengers.
Reaching Communities through Refugee Resettlement Agency Partnerships
Refugee resettlement agencies receive funding through the federal government and public/private partnerships to provide comprehensive social and health services to refugees, asylees, and special immigrant visa (SIV) holders. These agencies offer comprehensive care for newly arrived refugees, including core services such as resettlement case management services, helping refugees secure housing, providing employment and economic development services, and integrating newly arrived refugees into the USA through cultural orientation and refugee health promotion programs. Although in some cases not historically connected to immigrant and migrant communities, refugee resettlement agencies have been deeply rooted in refugee communities and are uniquely positioned to bridge cultural and linguistic knowledge gaps for health departments. These connections to RIM communities continue to evolve and grow, as many resettlement agencies hire members from within the communities they serve, which can be a helpful resource for better understanding how to bridge cultural and linguistic gaps. Health departments oftentimes assist with the first domestic refugee health screening, and are partnering with resettlement agencies to build a bridge to the RIM community. They build rapport with cases by assessing what services are needed, such as rent and food assistance or job protection. Many resettlement agencies are able to offer services in areas that are key to protecting and promoting health and most effective through formal partnerships, including offering support that allows people to follow public health guidelines such as arranging transportation to a COVID-19 testing appointment; helping share resources in multiple languages and videos; and preparing the RIM community members for what to expect with COVID-19 testing, case investigation, and contact tracing (CICT), in addition to COVID-19 vaccination.
Georgia Health Department Engages Refugee Resettlement Agencies
In Atlanta, the DeKalb County Board of Health partnered with CORE - Georgia and International Rescue Committee (IRC) - Atlanta on COVID-19 initiatives, including COVID-19 testing at mobile testing sites. Due to the resettlement agency’s long-standing relationship with multi-sector partners, the Dekalb County Health Department was able to work with resettlement agencies to secure COVID-19 testing locations at apartment complexes in an area where many RIM communities live. By prioritizing social vulnerability indices and maintaining close relationships between the health department and resettlement agencies, they were able to test about 400 people in three days compared to nearby testing sites. By December 2020, the resettlement agency, in partnership with the health department, had provided access to over 10,000 tests. As the COVID-19 response has evolved, IRC-Atlanta continues to engage with core partners in community COVID-19 vaccine administration among RIM communities. 1,758 COVID-19 vaccinations were administered between January and April 2021, and over 15,700 COVID-19 tests were provided between May 2020 and April 2021.
Partnerships to Facilitate COVID-19 Vaccine Sign Up in Washington State
Spokane's Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic partnered with World Relief Spokane to help facilitate COVID-19 vaccine sign-ups for eligible RIM community members at the clinic sites. The refugee resettlement agency community within Spokane was able to assist with COVID-19 vaccination efforts, particularly in helping local clinics source COVID-19 vaccine translated resources in several languages. The clinic also assisted with COVID-19 testing efforts in the Karen and Russian-speaking communities and provided support and screening during COVID-19 outbreaks within these communities.
Iowa Health Department Engages Refugee Resettlement Agencies
The Linn County Public Health (LCPH) Department formed a formal partnership with their resettlement agency and informal partnerships with other groups that assist in refugee services like community-based and faith-based organizations. The partnership has helped build trust between the RIM community and the health department and helped provide emergency resources and funds.