The Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas announced on Monday (June 22) a $286,000 grant to the Northwest Arkansas Council Foundation to address the recent spike in COVID-19 transmission in the Latinx and Marshallese populations in Northwest Arkansas.
According to a news release, the funds will be used to hire and train community health navigators to conduct outreach within Latinx and Marshallese communities. This grant is part of a larger program intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 through a coordinated response for testing and other support in hard-to-reach populations of Northwest Arkansas.
“Since the pandemic began, the Blue & You Foundation has worked to rapidly respond to the needs across the state resulting from COVID-19,” Blue & You Foundation executive director Patrick O’Sullivan said in a statement. “Since April, we’ve funded more than $2.4 million to organizations fighting the spread of the virus, but the Northwest Arkansas crisis is a need unlike any challenge our state has experienced thus far. The Blue & You Foundation provides this grant to the Northwest Arkansas Council Foundation with gratitude for their planning and dedication to finding solutions in their region of the state.”
The grant will support 10 community health navigators, who will be hired from within the Northwest Arkansas communities especially hard hit by the pandemic. Six navigators will be bilingual in Spanish and English, and four will be bilingual in Marshallese and English. With recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, it is estimated that more than 80 bilingual navigators and contact tracers are needed.
The community health navigators will be employed, trained and supervised by the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus (UAMS) and Community Clinic. Each of the organizations has long-term experience and strong relationships with the Marshallese- and Spanish-speaking populations in Northwest Arkansas.
“Northwest Arkansas is a diverse region and is home to large Latinx and Pacific Islander populations who make significant contributors to the state’s overall economic success and cultural diversity,” said Pearl McElfish, vice chancellor of the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville. “Unfortunately, these communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, having rates of infection that are about 400% higher than the general population. We are pleased that the Blue & You Foundation has announced the first investment in our efforts to reduce the COVID-19 disparities in the Latinx and Marshallese communities. This grant will help us begin the process of lowering those infection rates.”
The community health navigators, according to the release, will be able to connect with people, give advice and link them to community resources. The navigators will also provide translation and interpretation services, help with access to resources (such as food and medication) that will allow people to self-isolate, connect people to testing services for themselves and other family members, and provide support for contact tracing.
The grant will complement existing activities being undertaken in the region by the Northwest Arkansas Council’s Healthcare Transformation Division. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the division has served as a coordinating body to establish a collective, region-wide response to the pandemic.
“This grant will provide significant immediate resources to help curb infections in these hard-to-reach communities in Northwest Arkansas,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “We are grateful for the coordination and support from the state of Arkansas and other funders to help implement a robust testing and tracing strategy for the region.”
“COVID-19 has left no community untouched, but we’re seeing it take an especially dramatic toll on our ethnic populations, particularly our Latinx and Pacific Islander populations in the northwest region of our state,” said Curtis Barnett, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield president and chief executive officer. “We are pleased to support the Northwest Arkansas Council as it implements its COVID-19 Response Plan. We believe having trusted health navigators from within the community who can help overcome language barriers and address critical social needs will be key to successfully controlling the spread of COVID-19 within these populations.”