“Too Many Jobs and Not Enough Hands”: Immigrant and Refugee Community Health Workers at the Frontlines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Brittany Bearss, Alexandra Martin, Sheila Dorsey Vinton, Virginia Chaidez, Angela L. Palmer-Wackerly, Elizabeth Mollard, Lanetta Edison-Soe, Nyabuoy Chan, Evelyn Estrada Gonzalez, Ma’Kiya Carter, Katelyn Coburn, Yan Xia, Julie A. Tippens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Refugees and immigrants have experienced heightened health inequities related to COVID-19. As community-embedded frontline health personnel, refugee and immigrant community health workers (riCHWs) played essential roles in the provision of informational, instrumental, and emotional support during the unprecedented first year of the pandemic. Despite the importance of this workforce, riCHWs are at high risk for burnout due to low recognition and demanding workloads. This was exacerbated as riCHWs navigated a new and uncertain health delivery landscape. We sought to glean insight into riCHWs’ stressors, coping strategies and resources, and self-efficacy to identify ways to support their work and wellbeing. Using a narrative inquiry approach, we conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 11 riCHWs working in a midsized city in the midwestern United States. We generated three distinct yet interrelated themes: (1) Rapid and trustworthy information is key, (2) Creativity and perseverance are good … structural support is better, and (3) Integrating riCHW expertise into health promotion programming and decision-making. Although riCHWs were deeply committed to enhancing community wellbeing, quickly shifting responsibilities in tandem with structural-level health inequities diminished their self-efficacy and mental health. riCHWs relied on work-based friends/colleagues for informational and emotional support to enhance their capacity to deliver services. Findings suggest increasing opportunities for peer support and idea-exchange, professional development, and integration of riCHW expertise in health promotion decision-making are effective strategies to enhance riCHWs’ professional self-efficacy and personal wellbeing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-100
Number of pages15
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • COVID-19
  • burnout
  • health workforce
  • mutual assistance
  • sense of community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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