In the context of a global pandemic, it is not surprising that health was a major concern for most groups. The topic took up from quarter up to nearly two-thirds of all conversation time in 11 of the 17 focus groups. Members of groups isolated even more by language — like Migrant farmworkers and members of the Deaf community— and health issues — TBI sufferers and those dealing with chronic illness— expressed the highest levels of health concern. These concerns were strongly linked to access to locally and state-specific information, as well as access to services. The elders with whom REJOICE spoke, interestingly, focused less on health concerns, but the concerns mentioned were sometimes more acute.
Participants were divided on the value of telemedicine: those who had previously had difficulty accessing doctors’ offices, due to chronic illness or transportation issues appreciated virtual accessibility, including to prescription refills. But some issues could not be effectively diagnosed or treated remotely, and essential care was delayed: for kidney transplant, for a mobile home resident’s family member, and respiratory issues. People with long term relationships with trusted providers had a better experience receiving virtual care throughout the pandemic, reinforcing the importance of health care stability and patient-provider relationships. This was borne out in the effectiveness of community-specific vaccination campaigns.
Younger Somali Bantu participants spoke at length on health issues, sharing knowledge in the face of the pandemic. They were clearly acting as the conduits for health information that informed decision-making for their multigenerational households. They spoke to how older generations–and younger ones–often didn’t understand the severity of the pandemic, or trust state responses, due in part to the very limited information available in elders’ primary language, via preferred information sources and media.
“I was worried for my little brother because he’s really stubborn like my dad, he doesn’t understand anything, he wants to go back to school, he doesn’t want to do online classes, he wants to hang out with friends, he wants to have a good time…. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and it would be helpful if people actually learned the right information.“– Young adult Somali Bantu participant
Critical information channels were cut off for speakers of languages other than English, such as pediatricians at office visits, and access to school multicultural liaisons in the summer months.
Psychological health during the pandemic has been deeply affected by fear of losing loved ones, compounded by greater difficulty in accessing counsellors/therapists. Some participants from all groups expressed deep feelings of isolation, mental health challenges, and even despair. Immigrant and refugee Vermonters spoke clearly and directly to those experiences, and they were not limited to the pandemic: participants reported that the negative impacts of discrimination on mental health were, however, intensified by the pandemic.
“It’s been a big change, right, in our lives, in every aspect – economically, health, mentally, and physically. We’ve suffered a lot of stress, at least in my personal life and in my family. And our work hasn’t stopped, we keep working on the farms. There have been a lot of changes in my life, now we can’t go out with our kids, to the parks.”– Migrant Farmworker
Members of some Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities reported that their mental health was also impacted by over-policing and threats and violence from neighbors, which occurred previous to the pandemic, and may have intensified as people spent more time at home and in proximity to their neighbors.
Participants also spoke to the importance of family, present with them in the U.S. and abroad, to building resilience, community and a sense of purpose in the face of the pandemic. Latinx farmworker participants talked the most about family as a motivating source of resilience of any group with whom REJOICE spoke.
Summary compiled by: Dr. Susannah McCandless, Center for Whole Communities REJOICE 2021