Multnomah County community health workers from numerous community organizations and county agencies gathered at the Board meeting on Thursday, April 7 to share the impact they have made responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of public health community partnerships during Public Health Week.
Each year, the American Public Health Association observes National Public Health Week across participating communities in the United States on the first full week of April. During Public Health Week, communities recognize the contributions of public health and bring forth important issues for improvement to raise awareness. This year’s theme was “Public Health is Where You Are,” and was celebrated April 4-10.
“I can’t not acknowledge the incredibly special and important role that each of you plays in being those connections to communities,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. “Trusted partnership is so important.”
Beth Poteet, a program specialist for Multnomah County Public Health Partnerships and Capacity Building, introduced each community health worker from county agencies and organizations.
Since COVID-19 landed in Multnomah County in March 2020, health workers have worked quickly in response to the changing needs of the community in the wake of the pandemic. Claudia Ramirez, a community health worker for the Oregon Latino Health Coalition, distributed face masks and hand sanitizers in the community. Jennie Brixley, with the Native American Youth & Family Association helped families pay for their rent and delivered groceries and traditional medicines during the pandemic.
“I deeply appreciate the tenacity,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran. “And people working in the community who answered the call to service amidst chaos.”
And once the County introduced vaccinations against COVID, community health workers informed their communities and helped distribute the vaccines. Sebah Gerges, with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, helped with vaccine registration, appointments and providing culturally-specific language materials on COVID for more than 40 families every month during the pandemic.
UTOPIA PDX, founded to create space for Queer and Trans Pacific Islanders, brought forth Nathan Pulu. Pulu helped connect the community with financial assistance programs and hosted vaccination clinics with culturally-specific food available for the community.
“UTOPIA PDX was able to do this with the support of Multnomah County,” said Pulu.
Lung Wah, community health worker with Catholic Charities, dedicated time to create educational videos about the vaccine against COVID in English, Burmese and Swahili. Natalia Bernhardt, with Lutheran Community Services NW, worked on creating video tutorials for at-home COVID test kits for the Slavic community.
“They were helpful not only to people from Portland, but also our related countries,” said Wah.
While COVID cases were spiking, the community health workers managed to maintain programs, adjusting to a virtual platform. Alex Lopez, a community health worker for Quest Center for Integrative Health, facilitated a men’s group every Friday and only had to cancel one meeting due to the pandemic. Marsha Jordan said that the Miracles Club managed to continue two programs through COVID: diabetes self-management and diabetes prevention.
“You have saved thousands of people’s lives and helped them with their mental health and physical health,” said Commissioner Lori Stegmann.
Eugenie Adama-Tassah, a community outreach specialist for African Women’s Coalition, talked about listening to the community, working to build trust and addressing the communities’ concerns. Adama-Tassah told the story of assisting a community member who called Adama-Tassah for help during a time in crisis.
“Just my presence brought the support that was needed,” said Adama-Tassah.
“I’m rarely at a loss for words—I don’t have words to adequately express my gratitude,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.
In closing statements, Chair Deborah Kafoury thanked all the community health workers for serving their communities during the pandemic. “You’ve really demonstrated to the public what Public Health is all about—it’s about community health,” said Chair Kafoury.
“Based on partnership that you have invested,” said Tere Campos-Dominguez, a program specialist for Multnomah County Public Health Community Partnerships and Capacity Building, “that made it easy to respond to the communities who were greatly affected by this pandemic.”