COVID-19 has impacted and further disenfranchised many communities, including immigrants, migrants, the elderly, and others. The needs of these communities are complex and solutions require many stakeholders and partners.
Task Force in Maryland
Concerned service providers from community organizations, government agencies, schools, clinics, hospitals and health departments from the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland meet weekly via Zoom to address the many needs of vulnerable community members, including the elderly, immigrants and migrants, and others impacted and further disenfranchised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Started in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis, the grassroots coalition of over 100 actively engaged organizations make up the COVID-19 Vulnerable Populations Task Force that is facilitated by a community-based mediation agency. Tri Community Mediation is well known for its inclusive approach and is skilled in meeting facilitation.
Currently, the task force is supported by organizations that encourage their staff and volunteers to participate, but it has little dedicated funding.
These meetings take place both during the day and evenings to accommodate the varying schedules. Subgroup meetings focused on immigrant and migrant-specific communities often take place in the evenings.
The task force also carries out weekly community “no contact” outreach events that offer free food, supplies, masks, hand sanitizer, flu vaccines and information about COVID-19 testing, health care, legal services, rental and utilities assistance, and other available services. The food distribution is supported by specific grants and other supplies are donated. Events are held in different neighborhoods and take place outside at schools, parks or community centers. The change in venues make them more accessible to different populations.
These events include Spanish- and Haitian Creole-speaking volunteer interpreters and service providers. The volunteers also translate informational and educational materials, broadening the task force’s local reach and impact. The efforts of the task force help build trust within the community--a key factor in COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and ultimately vaccine dissemination. The task force provides area service providers and advocates a continual and focused snapshot of what is happening in the community, supporting a coherent understanding of the environment surrounding local vulnerable populations.
For those delivering health education, health care, and services such as COVID-19 testing, flu shots, vaccines, and health assessments, the task force offers members an opportunity to network with a gathering of community leaders, creating smoother avenues to build trust and reach the community. The task force also engages members in segmented workgroups focused on healthcare access and COVID-19 related health information, behavioral health, information sharing, education/childcare, Hispanic/Latino communities, food donation and distribution, language, and housing.
The task force has not only reached hundreds of community members with needed services and vital supplies such as food, they have also fostered solutions to pressing problems such as supporting immigrant parents navigate a virtual and technologically onerous school system and bringing attention to poor treatment and lack of linguistically- and culturally-appropriate services for community members seeking COVID-19 related health services.