Utilizing Community Health Boards to Build Community Capacity

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected refugee, immigrant, and migrant (RIM) communities and highlighted health inequities that often stem from a lack of trust and understanding between RIM communities and public health or healthcare agencies. Community health boards can serve as an effective strategy to build capacity within a community as well as provide community members with a trusted resource for health information and guidance.

Community Health Boards

Community health boards (CHBs) are led by community members who are healthcare or public health experts, community leaders and advocates. CHB members work collaboratively to reduce health disparities in their community by engaging in some or all of the following:

  • Partnering with healthcare systems, public health agencies, and other organizations to advocate for changes to existing systems and policies in order to serve the community better.
  • Serving as a network for community health professionals and providing community members with opportunities to pursue health related careers.
  • Strengthening relationship between community and health system (local/state health departments) in order to facilitate timely health resource sharing, strengthening state/local partnerships for community outreach, and make public health programs more culturally relevant.
  • Providing trusted health education and health communication resources to community members through preferred approaches and sources (e.g. social media, trusted providers, and community leaders).
  • Strengthening community capacity to respond to public health crises.

Community health boards are a long-term approach for building trust within the community and providing its members with a reliable source of accurate health information, health communication resources, and assistance.

Russian/Ukrainian Health Board in Washington State

The Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH) supports a CHB for the Russian and Ukrainian speaking community in WA State called the Nashi Immigrant Health Board. In the early phases of the pandemic, there was a vacuum of COVID-19 information due to a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate translated resources, mistrust of information from government sources, and limited COVID-19 accurate health information reaching the community. As a result, misinformation was overwhelming news outlets, which made sharing accurate and timely COVID-19 information harder to source.

WA DOH reported that one of the key reasons cited for lower COVID-19 vaccination rates among Russian and Ukrainian immigrants was that people felt that COVID-19 and other health decisions were being made without community input. As Russian and Ukrainian-speaking staff of WA DOH that were well-positioned to serve as a bridge to their community, Vadim Kogan, Immunization Health Educator, and Katya Teterina, Health Services Consultant in the Refugee Health Program, started laying the groundwork for a community health board. Their goal was to provide a forum for their communities to advocate collectively for their health needs. 

As a community-led effort, the community health board prioritizes building capacity within the Russian and Ukrainian communities so that they can provide trusted and accurate information to their own people. The community health board is also utilizing this strategy to address the evolving Ukrainian refugee crisis. Some ways that they have been working to expand outreach and engagement with the communities is through:

  • Community-based health fairs that address community health needs and provide resources.
  • A weekly health column in a Russian language newspaper (Seattle, WA)
  • Airing a podcast on a Russian radio channel that discusses various health care issues.
  • Creating a translation website for Ukrainian vaccination records to help newly arriving Ukrainian refugees.

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