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Penn Nursing-led Philly Team Awarded $1.4 Million NIH Grant to Expand COVID-19 Outreach

José A. Bauermeister, PhD, and Antonia M. Villarruel, PhD, are leading one of 10 new research teams from across the country that received National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants totaling $14 million to extend the reach of the NIH’s Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities. The Philly CEAL team was awarded $1.4 million from the NIH with additional support from Penn Nursing and The University of Pennsylvania, bringing the total for the alliance to $1.53 million. The team includes Penn Medicine, the Annenberg School for Communication, the Philadelphia Public Health Department, and Philly Counts.

“The toll of the pandemic among racial/ethnic populations in Philadelphia cannot be understated. Alongside the stark morbidity and mortality COVID-19 estimates reported by the city, racial/ethnic minorities in Philadelphia have also been most likely to experience job loss, income reduction, and decreased access to social resources,” said Bauermeister, the Albert M. Greenfield Professor of Human Relations and Chair of the Department of Family & Community Health. “As a result, we have witnessed deepening health inequities in our communities. The Philadelphia CEAL project is an opportunity to coordinate evidence-based planning efforts to address COVID-19 inequities in Philadelphia.”

CEAL’s mission is to create a multisectoral coalition in Philadelphia focused on identifying opportunities and evaluating on-going COVID-19 strategies to mitigate disparities across COVID-19 testing, vaccine uptake, and therapeutics. Together, the Philly CEAL team will propose and evaluate strategies that meet the needs of people hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives, with the goal of building long-lasting partnerships as well as improving diversity and inclusion in our research response to COVID-19.

“We are excited to be working with the City of Philadelphia Public Health Department, Philly Counts, our partners across Penn including Penn Medicine and Annenberg School for Communication, and community members,” said Villarruel, Professor and Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing. “We will work to synergize efforts to address the disproportionate impact of COVID 19 on underserved communities.”

Over the next year, CEAL researchers will work with community leaders, trusted organizations, and experts familiar to diverse communities across Philadelphia to strengthen a local response to COVID-19. Philly Counts will help provide materials and support to the grantees to ensure the greatest impact on communities. As teams within the CEAL Alliance personalize these outreach strategies, they will also share their findings with each other and the broader community of those working to move the country past the pandemic.

Using collected data from Philadelphia residents, city epidemiologic data and trends, and feedback from communities, the Philly CEAL team will propose programs that align with the needs of the community, synergize existing efforts across the city, and evaluate new COVID-19 initiatives as they are rolled out in Philadelphia.

In alignment with the City’s goal to vaccinate Philadelphians against COVID-19, the Philly CEAL coalition’ efforts will facilitate access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, as well as promote participation in COVID-19 therapeutic trials among underserved communities in the region. “The use of community engaged research is central to the success of our project. We must be ready to bring to the table leaders from the community, healthcare systems, community health and social support agencies, the private sector, universities, faith-based institutions, philanthropy, and policy and advocacy groups. With their voices and support, we can continually pivot and respond to the shifts in the pandemic, and consider its short- and long-term impact in our community,” said Bauermeister.

CEAL is an NIH-wide effort co-led by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).