$200,000 grant helps community health outreach initiative in Hmong and Hispanic communities in central Wis.

The COVID-19 Hmong and Hispanic Communications Network is working to connect people with...
The COVID-19 Hmong and Hispanic Communications Network is working to connect people with language and other cultural barriers with crucial health resources and information about COVID-19 and the flu to keep all communities healthy.(WIPPS)
Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 6:49 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - This week, the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) received a $200,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services for flu vaccination outreach in the Hmong and Hispanic communities in central Wisconsin. The money will help to expand on a program WIPPS started at the beginning of the pandemic, H2N, also known as the COVID-19 Hmong and Hispanic Communications Network.

“Back in March when COVID started, there was a realization that everybody needs to be reached with public health information, health system information, resources, and not all populations were being reached the same,” Dr. Corina Norrbom, WIPPS health policy fellow said.

Continuing today, but going back to the spring especially, everyone is learning about COVID-19 in real-time together. In the spring, as scientists and health experts learned more, information about how COVID-19 spreads, what it does to a person, and how people can protect themselves and others changed constantly.

“The mixed information gets even further mixed when it gets translated,” Tony Gonzalez, H2N’s Hispanic community coordinator stated, explaining that there are even more languages beyond Spanish and Hmong that they sometimes need to work to find common communication methods. “We have some people where Spanish is not even their first language in Mexico; they speak Mixteco, which is a native language in Mexico. So, they learned Spanish as a second language.”

Language barriers and the size of those populations in central Wisconsin are why the Hispanic and Hmong communities are of particular focus. H2N partners with local health systems, the Medical College of Wisconsin, health departments, and cultural resources, and there are now seven Hispanic and nine Hmong community liaisons working to connect with people one-on-one through sources those communities trust.

“The main barrier is trust,” Gonzalez said. “Being able to be free and seek help because of the different factors that we have, whether it’s immigration, or it’s language, trust is the first thing. They want to see a familiar face, but it takes a while to build that relationship.”

Liaisons are communicating with people at food drop-offs, at job sites, over the phone, through Spanish and Hmong media outlets and they are doing so in ways that people who do not have a good literacy foundation can understand too.

“There was actually a Hmong woman who tested positive that (sic) was actually assigned to Tony Gonzalez and he was on the phone with her for an hour because she didn’t know what to do and it took him a bit of time to really build that trust with her over the phone for her to start sharing information, the information that she needed to help her,” Mang Xiong, the H2N Hmong community coordinator said. “He then shared that with us and we were able to help her and again, she’s 34, newer to the country, and did not know who the Hmong American Center was.”

Navigating COVID-19 and people’s understanding and misconceptions is somethings all communities are facing, but cultural beliefs and traits, along with individuals’ socioeconomic status, their access to reliable internet and phone services all are factors that play into someone’s access to accurate information as well.

“(In) The state of Wisconsin and almost nationwide, we’re (Hispanic people) are four times more likely to get the coronavirus, three times more likely to die, and that doesn’t have to do with-- Hispanics aren’t built differently than anybody else; it simply has to to do with access to health and that’s what this program tries to do,” Gonzalez explained.

Xiong explained the Hmong culture is very superstitious and almost everything comes with a stigma, causing information about people’s health status to stay very private, to a point that is detrimental in a pandemic where the COVID-19 virus can spread quickly and easily.

“There’s been so many instances where, you know, somebody had attended an event or something, brought it back and gave it to a loved one who was high-risk and then would not make it through COVID-19 and that’s happened so many times in our community,” Xiong said. “It’s not a joke, it’s not a myth. It’s something that’s happening that’s real. It’s not political.”

They have reached a lot of people and say more people in those communities are getting tested when they need to, know where to go when they need help and are practicing the COVID-19 precautions recommended by health experts. The liaisons are also learning more about deficiencies and other barriers in those communities like food and housing insecurities, and are working to find solutions to those problems.

“We don’t want anybody who were to test positive or to have a challenge think that they’re in this alone or that there are not resources out there for them,” Xiong urged. “And then it’s not just giving them the resources and expecting them to navigate that, it’s helping them navigate it, that’s the other piece.”

However, going through the flu season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic means this new grant money will help increase education about the importance of flu vaccines now more than ever, and continue updating people on the latest developments with COVID-19.

“We certainly don’t want people getting influenza on top of COVID or overwhelming health systems even more with something that could be prevented,” Norrbom stated.

H2N is hosting a free flu clinic on Dec. 27 at St. Matthews church in Wausau for anyone who would like to learn more and get a flu vaccine. It will take place after the church service at 1:30 p.m.

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