Three community outreach specialists in Barron County are among efforts funded as part of a $6.2 million grant program to promote health equity in the face of COVID-19.

Barron County Department of Health & Human Services proposes to use $49,300 to fund three part-time community health workers to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for the county’s Somali and Hispanic residents.

“We are very excited about this opportunity. We have had two community outreach workers since last summer and are thrilled to be able to keep them doing the fantastic work they have been doing, plus to add another,” said Barron County Public Health specialist Sarah Turner.

Through outreach and education, the CHWs will build individual and community understanding to increase health knowledge. This will include through non-print, alternative tools; cultural and linguistic accommodations; and ensuring appropriate vaccine location sites, sufficient language interpreters, and the inclusion of Somali and Hispanic health care providers.

“The grant starts May 1 and will run through at least August 31, if not longer, but two of the community outreach workers will continue to work under the current grant until April 31 so it will be a seamless transition,” said Turner. “These outreach workers have been and will continue to be an integral part of our team. The work they have done and will continue to do has been essential in keeping our Somali and Spanish populations as healthy and safe as possible.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services last week announced $6.2 million in grants has been awarded to one hundred organizations across the state.

The investment aims to increase vaccinations by supporting organizations to serve as trusted messengers within their communities, build vaccine confidence, and reduce barriers that hinder vaccine access for marginalized or underserved populations, according to DHS.

Awardees range from community-based organizations to local and tribal health departments, school districts, and health systems. Each applicant was required to submit a plan that included the geographic area or target population they serve and a strategy to help overcome barriers to vaccination.

“This major investment to promote health equity in Wisconsin is essential to bounce back from the pandemic together,” said Gov. Evers. “Ongoing efforts to distribute the vaccine safely, efficiently, and equitably must include strategies to ensure that vaccines reach communities that face barriers to accessing medical care and people who may have a justifiable mistrust of the medical community and vaccines. We are excited that we can support our partners on the ground in their communities doing this work.”