This April 2021, the Alliance for Healthier Communities and CATIE hosted a webinar on community health approaches to supporting immigrants and newcomers in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our speakers explored how inequities have a pronounced impact on immigrants and newcomers during the pandemic, and what frontline workers can do to mitigate these impacts.
Here are five key takeaways shared during the webinar that service providers can implement now.
1. Share clear, accessible and multilingual information about COVID-19
Information is constantly changing throughout the pandemic. Clear and accessible information can enable people to keep themselves and their communities safe. This includes making information available in multiple languages and using clear and simple vocabulary. Some agencies held virtual events or “town halls” with health experts and interpreters to answer questions. Other approaches included leveraging multilingual TV, radio and social media channels and creating easy-to-understand visual information for video and print.
2. Acknowledge and address fear and stigma in the community
Communities may be afraid about disclosing or seeking care for COVID-19 due to the stigma around the illness. They may also mistrust or feel stigmatized by healthcare and public health institutions due to structural inequities which have deep roots in historical and current systems of power. They also face precarious housing, employment and immigration statuses, and face real and perceived risks around lost work, unsafe work conditions, eviction and deportation. Education to dispel myths about illness and promoting their rights as patients, workers and tenants can help to reduce fear and stigma in communities.
3. Make services community-led and community-embedded
Health services and education must reach people in the community with faces and places that are familiar to them. In the webinar, we featured programs that delivered outreach in settings as diverse as places of worship, ethnic grocery stores and local workplaces. Service providers also consulted with community leaders to better understand the issues, and they worked with community ambassadors to build trust and credibility in the community.
4. Provide wrap-around care and support beyond just health care
While healthcare is vitally important, many community health settings are also supporting communities by addressing other social determinants of health, meeting basic needs such as transportation, hot meals, groceries and support for safe isolation. Digital inequities, including a lack of access to computers, smartphones and the Internet, can also prevent people from obtaining health information and services. Mental health supports are also key for individuals who may be feeling isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as specific supports for LGBTQ communities and referrals for legal or settlement issues.
5. Support vaccine uptake to protect immigrant communities
In Ontario, many immigrants and newcomers are living in COVID-19 “hot spots”. When you factor in the increased risks many of them face, such as crowded workplaces or larger households, it becomes apparent that immigrants and newcomers should be prioritized for vaccination. Programs are supporting individuals to help them navigate complex and confusing systems for vaccine roll-out, including for people without government identification. Service providers are also providing education to help to dispel myths and fight vaccine hesitancy. Some agencies are also advocating for their clients to ensure equitable access to vaccine supply.
To gain more insight into the programs covered in the webinar, watch the full recording below.
Thank you to our panelists: Paula Day from the Ottawa Newcomer Health Clinic, Manvir Bhangu from Punjabi Community Health Services, Cliff Ledwos from Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services and Giovanni Rico from Toronto South Local Immigration Partnership.
Meghan Perrin is the francophone and resource policy lead at the Alliance for Healthier Communities.
Christopher Hoy is the manager of hepatitis C community programming at CATIE.