Cuong Nguyen was easy to spot as he lined up early to receive a flu shot outside Chùa Phât-Ân Temple in Roseville.
Nguyen, a monk and the leader of the Buddhist temple, wore the traditional golden robes of his position. But Nguyen didn’t mind the extra visibility. He was there to set a healthy example for his community. Founded in 1983, Chùa Phât-Ân has more than 3,000 members in the Twin Cities, many of them Vietnamese Americans.
More than 120 of those members received a free influenza vaccine on Sunday, Sept. 13, during a Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative (MINI) clinic event. Led by M Health Fairview’s Community Advancement team, MINI is a grant-funded program that provides free flu shots to uninsured, underserved populations in the Twin Cities. Since its creation in 2006, MINI has immunized over 90,000 people. Last year alone, the program hosted 125 pop-up clinics in 21 cities and provided more than 6,700 vaccinations. The vaccine clinics are often held in non-traditional settings at off-hour times when families are more likely to be able to attend.
For more than a decade, Chùa Phât-Ân has hosted a fall MINI clinic for its members. Ordinarily, the half-day clinic is held in the temple’s dining hall. But this year, the event moved outside due to COVID-19 concerns. On Sunday, M Health Fairview healthcare workers and volunteers set up a registration tent and six vaccination stations to serve visitors in the temple’s parking lot.
“It’s become a tradition in the flu season for the temple to host flu shot clinics,” said Dung Pham, a community engagement specialist with Portico Healthnet. Pham, who is Vietnamese American, ran the registration tent and provided translation services during the MINI clinic at Chùa Phât-Ân Temple.
“Lots of people, they have no health insurance. Or maybe they’re busy, and cannot go to the clinic,” Pham said. “The MINI clinic is very convenient for them. They have a Vietnamese interpreter available. And they don’t need to make an appointment.”
Even more importantly, Pham said, people trust the temple to do what is right.
Trust is a critical component of the MINI clinic model, said M Health Fairview Faith Community Outreach Manager Pat Peterson, who helped launch the MINI clinic program and served as its first director. Some diverse and historically disenfranchised communities face significant barriers to healthcare access and have little trust in national healthcare systems. They do, however, trust faith leaders or community-based institutions.
“When MINI sets up a clinic in a faith community, the trust that people hold in that institution is, in a way, transferred to MINI,” Peterson said.
That’s why faith communities and local institutions like Chùa Phât-Ân Temple are a key element in the partnership that drives the MINI program. The program’s success is largely due to the meaningful relationships it establishes with trusted community leaders who share the program’s goal of increasing local healthcare access and improving health equity.
“We partner with churches, mosques, temples, homeless shelters, libraries, community centers, schools, food shelves, and many other community-based organizations to hold the clinics,” said Ingrid Johansen, MN, MPH, RN, CEN, PHN. Johansen is the M Health Fairview Manager of Clinical Care and Outreach for Community Advancement – and the current director of the MINI program.
The stakes for MINI are even higher during the COVID-19 pandemic, Johansen said.
“In a pandemic, many systems have to change the way they provide services to individuals – or pause operations all together,” Johansen said. “This can increase the burden of the disease by making it more difficult to access essential primary care and preventative services like vaccines.
“We are concerned about influenza and COVID-19 circulating at the same time, which could be overwhelming to our health care system,” Johansen said. “Getting sick with both could be disastrous for individuals.”