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Community Care Clinics of Minnesota–Odam Medical: An outstanding community partnership to vaccinate immigrants in Minnesota
The Community Care Clinics of Minnesota–Odam Medical primarily serves the African immigrant population from East and West Africa in federally designated underserved areas. Addressing the community needs, concerns, and fears is what lies at the heart, passion, and commitment of the vaccination work driven by this group. ‘’Our goal is to deliver health care, where the people are,’’ says Dr. Robert Larbi Odam, Medical Director of the Community Care Clinics of Minnesota–Odam Medical. Abena Odam, operations director, shares how working with immigrant communities requires one ‘’to act as one of them… Let them feel that you are part of them. It is not them against us but us all fighting COVID!’’
With a diverse multilingual team, the community clinics have broken cultural and linguistic barriers related to immunization in the communities they serve. Abena Odam cites how their clinics ‘’have a solid foundation in vaccinations, which it thrives on.’’ In the era of COVID-19, the clinic decided to revisit and adapt its previous lessons learned and best practices in vaccinations to apply to COVID-19 vaccines.
Guided by an organizational policy of ‘’no vaccine waste’’ and a community partnership slogan of ‘’needing 70% of human bodies vaccinated on American soil,’’ the group of clinics hit a three-month record of vaccinating 18,000 patients. It embarked on an intensive community mobilization effort which targeted all ages eligible for vaccinations. By July 2021, the clinics completed the vaccination series with almost 33,000 individual shots given.
Being one with the community
The Community Care Clinics of Minnesota–Odam Medical identifies ‘the prevailing wisdom’ taken from social media surrounding COVID-19 vaccines, and uses that to address prevailing community myths and misconceptions in plain language understood by the community. Dr. Robert Odam noted how their greatest achievements included training their staff on how ‘’to convince their community on scientific knowledge in the simplest logical explanation within the context understood by all ages.’’
Extending open clinic hours to Saturday has been a great help to those who are unable to come in for vaccination during the week due to work commitments. ‘’We time our services in the way the schedules of our community members are structured,‘’ Dr. Robert Odam said. Most families prefer making one clinic visit and seeking multiple health services instead of making multiple clinic visits. The clinics have also worked with health insurance providers to help patients get free or reimbursed transportation to medical appointments.
To meet the language needs of a multilingual community, the clinic’s bilingual front desk staff speak English and either Oromo, Somali, or Spanish. The medical staff is also diverse to accommodate the community and make clients feel at home. The clinics encouraged community members to “spread the word and trust [vaccinations],” said Abena Odam. News of how people were being vaccinated spread quickly through word of mouth. The demand for vaccination grew to the extent that the foundation had to dedicate a separate location to COVID-19 vaccination services.
Forging community partnerships
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Care Clinics of Minnesota–Odam Medical has forged partnerships with its community members, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), local public health, the University of Minnesota, Blue Cross Blue Shield, various schools, immigration attorneys, Ghana Association of Minnesota, churches, mosques, and restaurants to provide vaccination services.
Building on its past relationship with MDH, the Odam Medical Group’s nonprofit arm, Community Care Clinics of Minnesota, continues to receive support from the state to sign up community members for vaccines, set up vaccination sites, and advocate for resources such as tents, translation of communication material, and data management. As part of the Healthcare Coalition, they benefited from information shared to help them in managing their vaccines.
Noticing the increased community demand for vaccinations, Rosemond Owens, director for equity and inclusion with Blue Cross Blue Shield, signed up medical personnel to join and assist the group. Remarkably, 280 doctors and nurses from across the state with specialties ranging from pediatricians, radiologists, to emergency room doctors signed up to assist with this work!
At the request of schools from Wayzata, Brooklyn Park, Edina, Orono, Mound, Robbinsdale, and Hopkins, the clinics provided vaccinations to youths. The popular vaccine events featured, ‘’music mascots and refreshments to make it fun and promote positive peer pressure among youth,’’ said Abena Odam. Students from the University of Minnesota joined as volunteers in this community cause of “Don’t Waste Vaccines!” They worked in shifts to support the registration of people at every vaccination site.
The immigrant attorney partners, with their knowledge of Minnesota’s diverse immigrant communities, mobilized 500 people to come for vaccinations. They allayed people’s fears by sharing the message, ‘’no IDs are asked [for], and no screening for status!’’ They also helped with translations and in responding to community questions.
Reflecting on their success, Dr. Robert Odam concludes that, “Investing in vaccinations and the community goes a long way to make a big difference.” Dr. Robert and Abena Odam continue to work to address the need for vaccination in Minnesota’s immigrant communities by advocating for more resources and strengthening partnerships with key players.