July 8, 2021
North Carolina and the Piedmont Triad region have a history of successful refugee resettlements dating back to the early 1980s, making them a natural laboratory for studying the health and integration of ethnically and linguistically diverse newcomers.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered ingrained injustices in health care for colored communities and heightened social and economic factors that contribute to poor health outcomes.
Minorities, refugees and immigrants have experienced a lack of communication, information, resources and support.
Dr. Sharon Morrison, a professor in the Department of Public Health Education, has worked with these populations for over 15 years, and when the pandemic broke out, she quickly changed her course and research so that she and her students could focus on public outreach for Africa American, Bhutanese, Montagnard and African immigrant and refugee communities.
“We in higher education have the tools and resources to give back, and we have a responsibility to use those resources to benefit our wider community,” said Morrison.
Much information was shared quickly during the pandemic, but language and technology barriers meant that it took longer for these important messages to reach minority and refugee communities.
In the spring semester of 2020, Morrison’s Global Health students created and managed a Twitter account to follow COVID-19 updates. During the summer, her Masters students organized outreach with the refugee populations of Montagnard and Bhutan and began participating in zoom calls with community leaders and elders for pandemic updates and guidance.
Beginning in Fall 2020, Morrison Public Health Disease Class students began creating infographics to share this information, guides, and updates in a quick and digestible format. Messages about wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing, setting boundaries, and testing were translated into different languages ââby students so that the information was readable for families and children.
These infographics were laminated and junction boxes added that Morrison and her students provided to minority and refugee groups, including packaged groceries, fresh groceries and PPE. On average, Morrison and her students were able to distribute these boxes to more than 60 families thanks to a grant from Black Child Development, Inc.
As the world returns to a ânew normalâ, Morrison and her students decide how to focus their efforts on helping these minority and refugee groups in a post-pandemic world and ensuring they have access to the resources they need , to stay healthy.
âI would not have been able to manage all of this without the cooperation of our working students. The students weren’t just onlookers. They appeared and asked, ‘What can we do?’ “
Morrison describes this outreach as an incredible learning experience for her public health students, many of whom required internships that were harder to come by during the pandemic. They were able to use those skills and training to find internship opportunities.
One of these students was Caroline Wells, a sophomore graduate student who, after working with Dr. Morrison had worked on outreach for refugees and immigrants from Greensboro, affiliated with Mustard Seed Community Health, a charity clinic in East Greensboro.
As a public health intern, Wells worked with the health team and community health workers along with other public health and social work interns from UNCG and NC A&T to support the medical clinic and community health center. Wells helped provide transportation and food deliveries to underserved populations, and most importantly, helped enable the center’s personal and mobile vaccine clinics to vaccinate marginalized populations in the Greensboro area.
“I’ve seen the importance of human capital, especially in a pandemic where community and social interaction are so limited,” Wells said. “It is amazing to see how willing people are to help others within the community, especially at a time like this.”
This internship also helped Wells define her career path. After graduating from PA School at Emory University, she hopes to return to Greensboro and continue to address community health inequalities by serving the same populations she now mentors in her internship.
Morrison describes public health education students studying during a pandemic as historical.
“These students have had the unique experience of putting the concepts learned in class into practice and making a real impact in real time.”
Story by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications Photograph courtesy of Dr. Sharon Morrison
This press release was produced by UNC Greensboro. The views expressed here are your own.