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IRC looks ahead to local pandemic response in 2021

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City speaks about how the office has been responding to the pandemic.

The IRC in Salt Lake City prioritizes being there for refugees, even from a distance.

Photo: James Roh

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City regularly evolves, learning from refugee and asylee experiences to serve families creatively and consciously. When the pandemic hit Utah, our office needed to shift rapidly. Over the last year, each of our programs quickly pivoted to adhere to physical distancing guidelines and other safety measures then maintained, and in some instances expanded, to meet the needs of communities we serve. To better understand the progress we’ve made for local Utah communities, Sheila Hubert takes us behind the scenes. 

Sheila Hubert works closely with the health team at the IRC in Salt Lake City as the COVID-19 navigator, providing accurate and updated information and insights about the pandemic to ensure programs and service provision remain seamless for refugees and asylees. False information regarding the pandemic easily spreads which negatively impacts many families living in Salt Lake City. Sheila has the facts. 

Sheila received her degree in public health with an emphasis in health promotion with the goal to give people the information they need to lead healthy lives. When conducting these efforts during the early months of the pandemic, she noticed many equity gaps in the people who were able to quarantine and those who were not. Working for the IRC, Sheila can directly address these gaps in health access for specific communities, bolstering the broader community health response.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City speaks about how the office has been responding to the pandemic.
The IRC in SLC has found unique ways to meet with refugees to stay safe while continuing to work alongside them. Photo: James Roh

Sheila’s primary focus, even this far into the pandemic, remains educating families about the pandemic and actively battling misinformation. Though the broader community is also susceptible to the myths of the pandemic,  Sheila specifically seeks to understand where people in refugee communities find information and how best to rectify misinformation. “The IRC is already a trusted source,” Sheila explains, saying that her work involves letting refugees know that the IRC is equipped with knowledge about the pandemic. To keep everybody on the same page, Sheila also regularly updates staff. 

The other side of Sheila’s position includes making sure that refugees and asylees have the resources they need, from reusable face masks to identifying a COVID-19 testing site nearby. She helps people access their test results, bridging digital literacy and language gaps. If families and individuals do test positive, Sheila works collaboratively across IRC programs to ensure the family’s needs are met while they safely quarantine. Sometimes this entails working with Spice Kitchen Incubator to provide a hot meal, connecting with New Roots to ensure food staples are delivered, ensuring internet access for students progressing through online classes and much more. 

Sheila has a deep understanding about how physical health and mental health go hand in hand. This dual impact means that even job security can impact our overall health. In this way, too, Sheila addresses holistic wellbeing. 

“It’s been really interesting how impactful our team can be,” Sheila shares. “We had a client who was so worried she was going to get fired because she had to isolate for two weeks... [We were] able to help and work with her boss to make sure she could have that peace of mind...she has rights, she can miss those weeks of work to take care of herself and her family.”

“My favorite is when clients tell me to take care of myself. Wear a mask, drink lots of water. I can really feel their concern,” Sheila says, noting that people forget how refugees—our newest neighbors—help create solutions. “They’re in our communities, they’re going to be a part of the solution,” she emphasizes.

Having seen health disparities up close, Sheila knows there is still much work to be done, during the pandemic and beyond. “We’re all a community, all working together, if we see something unfair in how the pandemic is affecting refugees, we can do something about. What we’re doing, it’s something other people can do as well: looking out for each other.”

In person or remote, our work would not be possible without you! Thank you for following us on our journey over the last year. As we look ahead to new challenges in 2021, consider contributing to support our efforts by making a gift today at Rescue.org/GiveSLC.