Image above: Panelists from Industry Initiatives' March event: "Innovation and Collaboration to Support Community Health: Leveraging Partnerships to Provide Culturally Relevant Care in the Wake of COVID-19"


Health care can be overwhelmingly complex, but when it comes to addressing the wide disparities in health access and outcomes exposed by COVID-19, getting started can be as simple as showing each person that they matter. That’s the important lesson we put into practice every day as community and industry partners supporting community health workers who serve marginalized communities in California.

In a recent conversation on health equity, we shared our insights on how community and industry partners have been working to reduce health disparities and increase access to care for marginalized communities in a culturally competent way.

Leveraging trusted messengers with lived experience


Community health workers and promotores act as trusted cultural bridges between communities and the health care system. Community health workers and promotores share a lived experience with their patients. That’s a must for patients who have long faced racism, discrimination and barriers to accessing health care including language, immigration status, and geographic distance.

Blue Shield of California supports its own community health workforce across the state in-person at primary care clinics and community resource centers, and remotely through telephonic services. These community health workers prioritize trust-building, identify social resources tailored to individual client needs, and assist members in using telehealth.

For Blue Shield of California’s COVID-19 vaccination response, in addition to leveraging our own community health workforce, we partnered with local, trusted organizations such as Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), who have deep connections and credibility within the communities they serve. These partnerships improved the ability to engage with marginalized communities and connect them to critical information and resources for COVID-19 vaccination.

CIELO works to combat racism towards Indigenous people in the Los Angeles area by bringing visibility and resources to Indigenous migrant communities.

CIELO’s approach, grounded in cultural awareness and relationship building, proved powerful in engaging underserved communities when combatting COVID-19. For example, few Zapotec speakers read the language, a result of longstanding barriers to education. To reach Zapotec speakers about preventing COVID-19 and getting vaccinated, CIELO deployed audio and video tools. Not only are these communications tailored for each regional language variations, the video animations are also customized to show the traditional regalia worn in each region.

Creating nuance through data

Understanding who makes up a community is essential to delivering culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate care. Data can be a powerful tool to help providers gain clarity on the identities and needs of communities. CIELO’s groundbreaking data mapping project provided area health providers information on language needs of Indigenous migrant communities for the very first time.

SameSky Health incorporates social determinants of health, health indicators, patient demographics, cultural views on health care, and other data to help partners identify disparities and barriers to care. This data informs personalized patient journeys to help individuals navigate disparate life experiences within a complex system to get the care they need. Data and technology alone won’t improve health care; they are tools deployed by a culturally responsive community health worker team.

SameSky Health

In partnership with SameSky Health, Blue Shield of California’s Promise Health Plan saw improved access and health outcomes when combining these powerful strategies – community health workers and promotores, together with SameSky Health’s linguistically-appropriate outreach, have improved well child visits by 40%, reached an additional 2,500 women for cervical cancer screenings and successfully launched effective Type 2 diabetes care campaigns.

Working together as community health workers, health plans and technology providers we have an incredible opportunity to eliminate California’s health disparities.

Centering voices from the community in health-related conversations and using data that gives a more nuanced understanding of populations empowers the care delivery system to not treat our collective health as “one size fits all.” When patients are engaged by the health care community in a culturally responsive way, providers and health plans can begin to build trust and help Californians access the care they need. We can no longer expect to reduce disparities while providing the same care to everyone regardless of their background – treating patients as individuals matters.

To see our full conversation with community health leaders, check out the recording from our March 16th event, “Innovation and Collaboration to Support Community Health: Leveraging Partnerships to Provide Culturally Relevant Care in the Wake of COVID-19”.

Comunidades Indígenas en liderazgo (CIELO) is an Indigenous women-led non-profit organization that works jointly with Indigenous communities residing in Los Angeles to fight for social justice through a cultural lens.

SameSky Health is a cultural experience company that removes barriers to care by building trusted relationships that encourage dignity, autonomy and companionship as people navigate disparate life experiences within a complex healthcare system.