State and local health departments (SLHD) may work with community-based organizations (CBOs), resettlement agencies, and faith-based organizations to reach refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities. However, in order to more effectively address the health needs of incoming refugee arrivals, SLHD should partner with State Refugee Health Coordinators to better assess refugee health needs as part of a comprehensive and effective COVID-19 public health response.
The Role of State Refugee Health Coordinators
State Refugee Health Coordinators (SRHC) play a critical role in supporting refugee health activities within their respective states. SRHCs help manage, coordinate, and provide technical assistance to improve health service delivery for recently arrived refugees and other immigrant populations eligible for refugee health benefits. One of the overarching objectives of an SRHC is to develop effective strategies to address key refugee health concerns that occur within their jurisdiction.
The primary area of focus is the initial medical screening and surveillance. SRHCs also support ongoing refugee health care and help promote health education, outreach, and partnership building with local resettlement agencies and community-based organizations (CBOs). The Association of Refugee Health Coordinators (ARHC) facilitates communication, sharing of resources and partnerships between states.
Every state has a refugee health coordinator, whose office is either located within the respective state health department or a local resettlement agency. State Refugee Health Coordinators and ARHC work closely with CDC and state/local counterparts to ensure the successful delivery of healthcare services for refugees within the initial resettlement period.
SRHCs are ideally situated to connect refugee communities to COVID-19 prevention, contact tracing and mitigation efforts by advocating for and facilitating integration into ongoing state and local efforts; providing and sharing educational and other resources; serving as a bridge between health departments and community partners (e.g. CBOs); and developing and disseminating best and promising practices.
Example Partnership in Utah
In Utah, the SRHC and his team worked extensively with resettlement agencies, refugee health care providers, state and local public health programs, refugee community leaders and local CBOs to ensure effective public health COVID-19 prevention messaging as well as culturally- and linguistically-appropriate health service delivery to refugee communities during the pandemic. These partnerships were strengthened by continued and sustained communication throughout networks.
For example, the refugee services office organized open community forums with several ethnic communities, where the refugee health program staff provided critical COVID-19 prevention messaging with interpretation available. During these forums, questions and key gaps in knowledge were identified, resulting in health department staff providing more targeted COVID-19 prevention health messaging to communities.
Additionally, feedback was given at these forums that more health messaging needed to be in audio/visual formats; leading the refugee health team to develop translated COVID-19 prevention videos, featuring prominent community leaders, to be disseminated widely within refugee communities. The SRHC and his team were able to quickly and effectively respond to the COVID-19 prevention needs of refugee communities locally in Utah due to increased collaboration and coordination between the state health department, refugee resettlement agencies, and local CBOs, resulting in more effective public health service delivery.
Take Away Points
- Use your position to advocate and facilitate inclusion of refugee, immigrant and migrant populations in the pandemic response and for other best practices
- Utilize linguistically- and culturally-appropriate materials
- Encourage and facilitate use of social support and wrap around services
- Facilitate community forums to empower and include community voices in the response, as demonstrated by Utah’s refugee health program
- Facilitate connection between the CBOs, community leaders, faith-based organizations and other key partners with your local and state health departments to engender trust