Over the last two years, grassroots community organizations, outreach teams, and community health workers across the country have had to refocus their efforts toward fighting COVID-19 and the misinformation that has spread about the virus and vaccines. Though many have greater expertise working on other social and health issues that affect – and continue to affect -- their communities, these organizations have become key actors in ensuring that the most at-risk communities – communities of color, essential low-wage workers, immigrants, and migrants – have access to support and information about the virus.
In the fall of 2021, in recognition of the evolving science and the need for culturally contextual and multilingual resources to promote accurate information, Migrant Clinicians Network developed a new learning collaborative for organizations across the country to learn about the latest science and guidelines, access resources relevant to their communities, share best practices, answer common questions, and connect with medical and public health experts, in order to help them best serve their communities. There are great challenges in reaching underserved, rural communities, and the vital work of grassroots organizations and health care workers within these communities has been key to reach historically marginalized and presently at-risk populations and help them safely navigate the pandemic.
MCN’s learning collaborative regular meetings brought together more than 60 representatives from organizations spanning the United States and Mexico, with members hailing from Maine to California to Puerto Rico, Oaxaca, and Chiapas -- all of them grappling with unique regional and local challenges. Many of these organizations are members of two US-wide groups, the Rural Coalition and Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, who worked with MCN to build the learning collaborative. Their member organizations represent many rural and agricultural worker communities that are attempting to reach essential workers and their families within communities that are particularly at risk of COVID-19.
Throughout the 18-session learning collaborative, participants shared the solutions they have found to the diverse challenges they faced, but many of the same key techniques that were highlighted can be applied in rural communities across the United States. Common narratives included: fears that the vaccines can’t be trusted; concerns that the vaccines are dangerous, deadly, or undertested; and misinformation that the vaccines would cause infertility or contain a microchip. While many people may not believe in misinformation, the introduction of doubt can play a large role in decision-making. Language barriers can also make it more difficult to counter these narratives, as much of the news and positive messaging around the virus and the vaccines are produced in English first and may not be available to low-income, rural, isolated communities.
These communities can also be hard to reach without such organizations. For migrant agricultural workers, all of these difficulties can intersect. Vital gaps in information and incorrect narratives need to be addressed and countered. These community organizations bring us the concerns of their community and do the legwork to make vaccination events happen within their community. In turn, MCN helps them connect to each other, shares information and changes in the scientific consensus, and provides unique, multilingual resources that can help organizations communicate effectively and efficiently with their communities.
MCN hosts these educational events via Zoom, offering simultaneous interpretation in all of the learning collaboratives. Each week, MCN combs through the latest science and CDC guidelines to pass relevant and up-to-date information on to our partners and to answer their questions accurately and quickly. MCN utilizes a robust evaluation process to ensure the content that is brought to the meetings is useful for and responsive to the concerns within the communities these partners serve. Through a weekly online questionnaire completed by all attendees of the learning collaborative, MCN gives partners opportunities to assess the sessions and to bring concerns they hear in their community to the experts. Many of the challenges brought to MCN at the collaborative meetings stem from real conversations these community health workers have in the field. This avenue of communication from partners to MCN helps MCN to address misinformation quickly and advise partners on how they can help their communities. It also provides real-time concerns that MCN uses to update resources which are then distributed to communities nationwide, such as MCN’s award-winning FAQ on COVID-19, available in English and Spanish.
Between all participating partners, the learning collaborative content is shared with over two hundred community health workers who are on the frontline of this pandemic. Partners share MCN resources and information to these community health workers, who use them to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.
By supporting existing networks and helping to foster new connections between similar organizations spread throughout the country, MCN and its partners are able to benefit from the accumulated knowledge of the whole collaborative, and best practices are able to be shared widely and adopted by several organizations. Coalition building is an effective strategy for addressing health issues on local levels, allowing for trusted community groups to use their existing connections in the communities while benefiting from the shared knowledge of organizations with a longstanding focus specifically on health care. Many of these groups focus primarily on providing resources to rural, agricultural worker communities, and have connections to essential workers and their families and others particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic, in remote and isolated areas that local health clinics may not sufficiently serve. Many of the organizations involved in the learning collaborative have partnered with mobile health clinics in order to bring vaccines to the populations they have long served before the pandemic, meeting people at their place of employment and other important community locations.
By pairing MCN’s public health and clinical experts and diverse selection of resources (as well as our ability to generate timely and relevant resources throughout the pandemic) with local organizations that understand the needs of their communities, the learning collaborative has created opportunities for growth and shared knowledge that help to encourage vaccination and help communities make it through the pandemic.
Organizations’ Promising Practices
During each learning collaborative, one organization provided an overview of their community’s top struggles during COVID and ways that the organization worked to support their community. These presentations illuminated the breadth of concerns that community health workers and grassroots organizations are having to address and uncovered creative promising practices that other organizations could learn from.
In California, Lideres Campesinas, a grassroots network of women agricultural worker leaders that operates throughout California, has worked to conquer the sheer size of the state by building a robust network of California-based organizations, health care providers, and community leaders to help the state improve vaccination rates among its agricultural worker population.
In the South, the Alabama State Association of Cooperatives (ASAC), an affiliate of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, is finding ways to get positive vaccine messaging into faith-based organizations, in response to widespread negative messaging around vaccination at churches and other places of worship in Alabama’s Black Belt. ASAC struggled with influential faith leaders that were against vaccination but has found success with other religious groups and public events within their community.
In the Southwest, Campesinas Sin Fronteras broadcasts a bilingual radio station with news about the pandemic to populations on both sides of the US-Mexico border that are often without internet or TV and only have radio as a means of entertainment. The station broadcasts breaking news, PSAs, and other important information for people to protect themselves between songs and talk shows. CSF also runs vaccination clinics in the area, making the vaccines accessible to rural populations in Arizona.
In the Midwest, the Kansas Black Farmers Association (KBFA) works to help communities across the entire state of Kansas, where mobile clinics have allowed for a large range of space to be covered by this organization. Over the course of the collaborative, KBFA has been able to acquire a mobile clinic of their own. KBFA has dealt with significant hostility from people who disagree with vaccination efforts. Their input on de-escalation, as well as effective best practices in their community, has been informative for other members of the collaborative.
Challenges are unique in different environments, but many of the same key techniques were repeated across the country. Some of the approaches that learning collaborative partners shared have been highlighted in more detail on MCN’s active blog, Clinician to Clinician. Visit www.migrantclinician.org/blog to read more.
Read this article in the Winter 2022 issue of Streamline here!
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