Grand Forks Public Health continues ongoing health equity efforts with help from grant dollars
Even when the grant period ends, Jacqueline Hassett, public health program specialist and health equity coordinator with Grand Forks Public Health, said health equity efforts will continue at GFPH.
GRAND FORKS – Public outreach and building relationships with local organizations are among current health equity efforts by Grand Forks Public Health, aided by a $125,000 grant received last year from the North Dakota Department of Health.
Jacqueline Hassett, public health program specialist and health equity coordinator with GFPH, said much of her outreach work for health equity is driven by data.
“A part of my position is research, not only trends and data in health disparities, but in proper outreach and community-building approaches,” Hassett said. “Everything I do is based on local, county health rankings, state or national data related to health inequities and how it affects different populations. I pair that with what we're seeing here in Grand Forks and local needs.”
Each outreach event — ranging from the setup to the information provided and how it is communicated — is backed by data, Hassett said.
“This is how we'll be most effective and ensure the work is being done where it's most needed,” Hassett said. “I believe a prospering community needs healthy people for all of us to enjoy the many things our city has to offer.”
Hassett, who has a master's degree in social work and gained years in outreach and programming experience prior to joining GFPH, works directly with underserved populations in the community to build relationships. Those populations include racial and sexual/gender minority groups, people with disabilities, people born outside of the U.S., people with substance use disorders and people experiencing homelessness or income inequality.
Earlier in the year, GFPH contracted with the New Americans Integration Center to hold COVID-19 vaccine clinics specifically targeted for people who don’t speak English. Along with those clinics GFPH has also worked with the New American Integration Center to translate information and create videos and educational initiatives on COVID-19 protections.
Since then, Hassett said, GFPH has continued to work with New Americans in the community to provide accurate information on public health such, as staying up-to-date on all immunizations.
In addition to the New Americans Integration Center, GFPH also works with New Hope for Immigrants and the Global Friends Coalition.
While much of the outreach work with New Americans revolves around working with local organizations, Hassett said outreach for other underserved populations — including the LGBTQ+ community — revolves around providing general information for GFHP programs by showing up to events.
An example: Hassett attended a recent Pride in the Park event, where she distributed information about monkey pox, sexual health and other preventative health issues, such as the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program offered by GFPH. At that event monkey pox vaccines and HIV rapid tests were distributed.
Hassett said a big part of building trust with underserved populations is to show up and speak with them.
“Everything I do in terms of outreach is really just making sure that population understands that we know what the health disparities are that they’re facing,” Hassett said. “That we’re educated about that and that we’re trying to bridge those gaps in a way that’s appropriate for them.”
Hassett said she is meeting with religious organizations in the community to connect with people struggling with food insecurity and other health care needs.
Throughout the outreach process, local organizations get reimbursed for their time and help, made possible from the grant. Hassett said being able to reimburse the organizations has helped with building some of those initial relationships.
“Being able to fund somebody who can do some of that initial work, I think, is so important,” Hassett said. “It’s nice to have someone that’s just the facilitator and making sure those pieces get put together.”
Other requirements of the health equity grant involve the development of a health equity plan, completed earlier this year, and cultural competency training for personnel.
While the grant period was originally to end in June of next year, GFPH now is expecting the money and dates for the grant period to be extended to the end of May 2024. GFPH is awaiting final confirmation from the state.
Hassett said she is feeling optimistic about completing the objectives that have been laid out. Some of the more aspirational items Hassett identified within that plan include being able to complete employee assessments related to health equity.
Even when the grant period ends, Hassett said health equity efforts will continue at GFPH.
“What we’re really hoping for with our strategic plan and with our efforts is that we’ve woven enough good things into how things work and that those things will continue,” Hassett said.
Before the health equity grant, Hassett said GFPH has worked to ensure programs being offered reach everyone in the community. Some of those programs include Woman’s Way, which helps pay for breast and cervical screenings for eligible North Dakota women, and the Syringe Service Program, which provides services to those at risk for disease transmission due to substance use or reuse of injecting equipment.
Hassett said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the health disparities that underserved populations in the community are facing. It showed the importance of health equity, she said.
"COVID-19 really just shined a big flashlight on existing health gaps and health disparities and some of the different social problems that contribute inaccurate inequities in health," she said.