July 8, 2021
In response to communities experiencing increasing health disparities due to COVID-19 related challenges, Clinical Scholars provided $298,000 in rapid response grants for 22 projects nationwide. The national leadership program for health care providers led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation pivoted program funds which helped nearly 10,000 people plus animals in this unprecedented time of need.
“We were very impressed by the wide range of creative approaches to COVID’s wicked problems such as tackling mental health needs, food and housing insecurity, harmful healthcare gaps, and many other topics all across the country,” said Clinical Scholars Co-Director Giselle Corbie-Smith, MD, MSc, during the June webinar presentation of the projects’ initial outcomes. Dr. Corbie-Smith is a Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Social Medicine, Director of the UNC Center for Health Equity Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Associate Provost for UNC Rural. “We are proud to have been able to support 22 projects, and the talented, committed people who took this work on in the midst of such challenging times.”
The grants range from $10,000 to $25,000 and were awarded in early 2021 to fund projects to help communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to structural inequities. Projects ranged from helping children and adults experiencing new or worsening mental health challenges to homelessness with many focusing on Black, Indigenous, immigrant, or Asian American populations. The Heat and Eat Meals project served 1,900 meals to Wake County homeless individuals through a collaboration between community partners including a local restaurant and farm, a social worker, an urgent care physician, and UNC-CH clinical counselor Thava Mahadevan.
Providers expand knowledge and partnerships
“This project allowed us to better understand gaps in care,” said Thava Madahaven, MS, LCAS, Clinical Scholars Fellow and clinical instructor in the UNC Department of Psychiatry and director of operations for the Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health. “We were able to mobilize and make a big impact in a short time with limited funds. By building relationships with homeless community members, like Joey, through sharing meals, we are able to first help with his basic needs in order to treat his psychological needs, including treatment for his schizophrenia.”
These projects show how it takes strong partnerships between many stakeholders to achieve health equity. The typical challenges of building real-world collaborations across sectors were multiplied by the pandemic. “Authentic community partnership is a central part of what we teach in Clinical Scholars,” explained Rachel Berthiaume, Clinical Scholars Deputy Director for Continuous Learning and staff in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. “It is crucial to thank the more than 100 community partners involved in these projects. As systems, institutions, and safeguards failed to keep many of us safe and healthy in the face of COVID, those on-the-ground and in communities, stood up in extraordinary ways, to show up for their neighbors.”
Lessons beyond COVID
Lessons learned from these projects are transferable to health equity work outside of COVID. Grantees cite the importance and impact of “go small, go often” to build trust in communities. The use of any amount of funds or resources can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives and can create an environment to improve health long-term. When efforts are responsive to feedback from participants and on-the-ground implementers, they are more successful than traditional project models. Many of the projects included surveys or focus groups which informed the COVID response and compensated community members for their time and lived experience expertise. Thanks to the initial funding, now these projects are in the process of sustaining and scaling their work.
“Although a spark may seem small when looked at by itself, when you gather many sparks together, you’ll soon have a bright fire that can light hope and better ways forward,” said Dr. Corbie-Smith.
Since 2016, the program has provided health-equity centered leadership training to 162 Fellows across 28 U.S. states and territories. Clinical Scholars is co-directed by Dr. Corbie-Smith and Dr. Claudia Fernandez, DrPH, MS, RD, LDN, Associate Professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Visit the Clinical Scholars COVID-19 Help page to learn more: clinicalscholarsnli.org/covid-19-help
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