Referral Systems for Vaccine Access

In the COVID-19 response, partnerships are essential to reach underserved communities, maximize resources, reduce duplication of efforts, and improve the delivery of culturally- and linguistically-appropriate services and resources. It is essential to draw on community strengths and trusted community networks to respond effectively to COVID-19 and to longstanding health inequities made worse by the pandemic. Collaboration allows limited federal, state, and local resources to be targeted and allocated to areas that need the resources most. As vaccine allocation includes a larger proportion of the population, understanding and overcoming challenges to vaccination experienced by different communities is essential to ensuring equitable vaccine implementation. Refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities are at risk of being excluded from many vaccination opportunities due to various pre-existing barriers related to cultural and linguistic factors, challenges with accessing healthcare, limited transportation options, and a well-founded lack of trust in government organizations.

Reaching Communities Through Referrals

Referral networks are a way to get refugee, immigrant, and migrant communities connected to resources such as social support services while under quarantine, or access to COVID-19 vaccines. These networks are a way to provide direct services to a community disproportionately affected by the pandemic. For example, once a client tests positive for COVID-19 and an initial call is made for outreach, the client is also asked about what social support services they may need during that time whether clients need access to food or need someone to pick up their prescriptions. After the client indicates what services are needed, a referral is generated listing what the client needs, which is then sent to a greater staff email directory. Providers that are already subcontracted with the state are connected with the client to administer the resources. Social support services are rendered to clients through organizations that are culturally and linguistically appropriate. By expanding referral networks and integrating organizations with local refugee, immigrant, and migrant communities, organizations are better able to have resources and build capacity to support their own communities for the future.

Referral Networks in Maine

In Maine, the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, a coalition of 77 organizations across the state of Maine working to improve the lives of immigrants, and collaborating on advocacy work, is utilizing referral networks to provide direct services for refugee, immigrant, and migrant communities as well as increase access for COVID-19 vaccines. In collaboration with the state, Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), mainstream community action agencies, and immigrant-led community-based organizations, the state-wide referral system connects any community member in quarantine or isolation with social services. This support includes providing cultural brokering services, distributing PPE, unemployment & financial support, housing assistance, delivering culturally-appropriate food, conducting outreach and prevention education, and language support. Particularly for non-English speaking individuals, the system allows them to access culturally and linguistically-sensitive support from trusted community health workers and cultural brokers. 

This system has also been adapted to meet COVID-19 testing and emerging vaccination needs especially for homebound individuals, and for registering for appointments. Healthcare providers blocked off certain times on their schedule and allocated specific doses for clients. This information would then be communicated to the greater referral network of community-based organizations who would seek out clients to fill these slots. By creating these specific blocks, the community was able to better anticipate the need for services such as interpreters, transportation, and cultural brokers subsequently reducing barriers to vaccine access that specifically impact the New Mainer community.

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