Background: Throughout the course of pandemic planning the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) assumed that certain populations may be at increased risk due to lack of access to health services and lack of information regarding the disease threat. These special populations include persons with limited English proficiency; minorities, including American Indians; persons with functional limitations related to communication, medical, independence, supervision, and transportation concerns; homeless persons; and persons in poverty. In spring 2009, MDH assembled core staff who work with special populations to establish a strategic communication plan to reach identified populations. These internal partners came from the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, Refugee Health Program, Communications Office, and the Office of Emergency Preparedness. This team became the Special Populations Section under operations in the MDH incident command structure.
Setting: Local sites in all eight regions of Minnesota
Population: Refugees, immigrants, persons of color including American Indians, persons with functional limitations, the homeless
Project Description: In spring 2009 MDH conducted two community forums, and leaders of identified populations attended. Goals included disseminating information, identifying key contacts, and assessing needs. After the forums, the Special Populations team developed a strategic plan and a communication plan for the second pandemic wave. The communication plan included an additional statewide forum; translation of key messages; ethnic media interviews; a contract with Emergency, Community and Health Outreach (ECHO) to provide mixed-media messages in top languages; and use of a language line with the MDH public hotline.
Results/Lessons Learned: Leaders from the identified populations appreciated first-hand contact with MDH and guidance about responding to a pandemic. Increased coordination and cooperation occurred between local health jurisdictions and community based organizations. Communication gaps have been identified and plans to reduce them are underway along with further all hazards planning.
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