Sharing COVID-19 Pandemic Community Success Stories: Equitable and Culturally Competent Care for California’s Most Vulnerable Communities
At the onset of the pandemic, there was considerable confusion, mistrust, and fear around information about the COVID-19 virus, and, as time has gone on, these challenges have extended to the COVID-19 vaccine. Providing our most vulnerable Californians and communities of color with accurate, clear, and culturally appropriate health and scientific information about the virus and the vaccines, how to stay safe and get tested, and where to get vaccinated has been paramount to keeping them healthy and protected.
To combat disinformation and community concerns about the virus and vaccines, local health, and public health leaders in partnership with community-based organizations swiftly came together and collaborated to ensure the health and safety of their patients and communities.
As we heard and discussed in each of ITUP’s 10 2020 Community Listening Sessions/Regional Workgroups, there is immense power in the trust that community-based organizations and community health workers, including promotores, have built with people in their communities. Below, we highlight an uplifting story from our Orange County Listening Session/Regional Workgroup about community connections and achieving health equity through culturally appropriate outreach, communication and care, followed by a summary of findings across all regions.
Local Spotlight: Orange County’s AAPI Community Response
One notable example from the 2020 ITUP Regional Workgroups was from Orange County. The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community was among those most impacted by the pandemic. In the Orange County Regional Workgroup, ITUP heard stories from participants of powerful partnerships that united to care for AAPI individuals, particularly those who are elderly or disabled, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and face barriers to accessing care. In a compelling example, community-based organizations (CBOs) recognized how essential rice is in an Asian diet, understood COVID-19-related access issues, and then donated supplies to the Love Our Vulnerable and Elderly Coalition. These actions helped fill a specific community need as local food banks rarely had enough rice to accommodate the cultures of the community they served. The participant remarked on the power and necessity of ethnic CBOs in Orange County and connected with another ITUP workgroup participant in real-time about ways to donate additional ethnic-specific food to the Love Our Vulnerable and Elderly coalition.
Major Takeaways: What Went Well During the COVID-19 Response in 2020
- Prevention for Vulnerable Communities: Mobile, Remote, and Non-Traditional Care Settings and Testing Efforts. Prior to the wide availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, large-scale testing, social distancing, and masks were the major public health tools for combatting the COVID-19 virus and containing community spread. However, to reach vulnerable members in communities across California, multiple counties launched creative strategies for COVID-19 prevention and testing efforts to make accessing testing more attainable. Examples of these efforts include:
- Door-to-door prevention and mask distribution efforts,
- Drive-up testing sites centrally located in communities, and,
- Partnerships with community organizations, county public health, and county disaster operations to enhance testing efforts in remote corners of the state.
- Collaboration, Leveraging Community Partners and Trusted Community Messengers were Essential to Improving Public Health Measures. Effective collaboration across many levels, including the grassroots/community level, enabled local health and public health ecosystems to coordinate actions to increase outreach and COVID-19 testing and treatment. The use of trusted messengers, including community health workers and community-based organizations, was highlighted as a best practice as these organizations understand community needs and can be leveraged to fill in existing gaps within the health care and public health systems. Examples of partnerships identified are:
- The Fresno Health Heal COVID-19 Equity Project, a collaboration between health care services and partnered community-based organizations (CBOs),
- Partnerships between health centers and community-based organizations to provide consumers with necessities such as diapers, formula, food, etc., and,
- CBOs have been necessary to fill cultural needs, such as making sure food banks have rice, which is crucial to an Asian diet.
Local Challenges in Confronting COVID-19
- Keeping Up with State Guidance Posed Challenges for the Health Care System and Consumers. ITUP workgroup participants expressed the difficulty of implementing both local and state public health measures as the guidance and response changed rapidly throughout 2020. These difficulties included:
- Evolving stay-at-home orders;
- Evolving mask mandates;
- Supporting the eviction moratorium;
- Consumers not being supportive of public health guidance; and,
- Public health officers were, in some regions, targeted, forced out, or required extra security because of community unpopularity of the COVID-19 response.
- Lack of Resources Necessary to Keep People Safe and Healthy and Prevent Spread of COVID-19. The lack of resources and supplies, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), was well documented nationally in 2020, and workgroup participants from several regions expressed similar concerns.
- Rural Regions Faced Unique Logistical Challenges in Pandemic Response. The terrain and distance of the North Rural region presented significant challenges to COVID-19 testing and public health surveillance, including lack of access to tests and care.
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