Minnesota Hospital Association


May 26, 2021

Serving Central Minnesota’s Somali community during COVID-19

This story is featured in MHA's community benefit report.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, fear of the unknown was felt across the nation. As the weeks and months went on, some of those worries started to dissipate as more information about COVID-19 was uncovered and shared.

But for Central Minnesota’s Somali American community, staying up to date on the latest information surrounding this novel virus was more difficult. Language was a barrier. Methods of communication were different. That’s when CentraCare’s community health specialists teamed up to help reach this at-risk population.

Protecting the vulnerable
Registered nurse Hani Jacobson helped lead CentraCare’s outreach efforts. She worked with other health specialists to share current and relevant information about COVID-19 with Somali community members by phone, through radio interviews and by visiting businesses. She also worked to connect people to resources like food and medication – things difficult to access during lockdown and furloughs.

This oral and direct form of communication was needed since many people never learned to read the written Somali language. In health care, fliers and documents are often translated to reach multilingual groups. Unfortunately, this tactic is not as effective when trying to reach all Somali Americans, especially seniors and newer immigrants and refugees to the country – and the stakes were high.

COVID-19 disproportionately affected people of color. Many Somali people have larger families living together in limited spaces, making isolation difficult. Somali Americans also make up a big portion of the essential workforce, increasing their risk of being exposed. Jacobson worked to make sure Somali community members understood their rights.

During the pandemic, there were outbreaks at poultry processing plants in the area – plants where the workforce was comprised of many people of color, including Somali Americans. CentraCare organized large-scale testing efforts for plant employees to help minimize further spread.

Tackling vaccine hesitancy
By the end of 2020, news of the COVID-19 vaccine started to become reality. Planning for distribution and education began – and Jacobson was part of those conversations at CentraCare. Her top priorities were decreasing vaccine hesitancy and easy accessibility for minority groups. Plans for vaccination clinics at mosques and other Somali gathering places started to come together.

This emphasis on equity during the COVID-19 pandemic was lifesaving. It took some creativity and extra resources, but it’s work CentraCare was proud to be a part of.