I’m sure most of us have heard the idea of “vulnerable populations,” but what exactly is that? Vulnerable populations are groups and communities at a higher risk for poor health due to barriers they experience socially, economically, environmentally, and any limitations they face because of illness or disability. Vulnerable populations include a wide variety of people/groups. Such groups can consist of racial and ethnic minorities, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Indigenous Peoples, those experiencing poverty or with low income, newcomers, and older adults. This list is not exhaustive as these are only a few examples.
Understanding what vulnerable populations are is important but knowing how to support vulnerable populations better is critical. A large part of better supporting vulnerable populations includes knowing the barriers these groups and individuals face that results in them being placed as vulnerable populations. As mentioned, these groups face economic, social, and environmental barriers resulting in a higher risk of poor health. It is essential to understand some of these barriers to gain a better understanding of what these groups and individuals have experienced.
To better support vulnerable populations, one needs to examine and consider their own biases. Sometimes, these biases are unconscious, but it is still essential to identify them to better support vulnerable populations. Doing so can create awareness, increase sensitivity, and even move closer to the care vulnerable populations need and deserve.
Additionally, what we can do is listen to what types of support these vulnerable populations need. The best way to provide better support is by first listening to what these groups and individuals need to be better supported. When supporting these groups and individuals, we can get so caught up in what we think is the best way/approach to support them. Often, what we believe is a great way to support others may not be beneficial for the person receiving these supports.
Many of the above suggestions are from a micro (individual) perspective. They include working one on one with groups and individuals (and even yourself) to better understand how these individuals would like to be better supported. It also includes a lot of self-reflexivity on the person offering the support. But better supporting individuals can also happen at the macro level. This can occur through policy, planning, education, training, and resident and family engagement. These are just a few different ways vulnerable populations can be better supported from a macro level.
A large part of better supporting vulnerable populations includes actively including these groups and individuals in the conversation. This can be done from the individual level (caregivers working on a care plan with a resident of a Long-Term Care Home) or at a broader level (including them in conversations surrounding policies and procedures). The broader social, economic, and environmental issues these groups and individuals face also need to be assessed to better understand the barriers they face. This is a critical aspect of providing the best support one can for vulnerable populations.