An $8.1 million grant to the Arizona Center for Rural Health will help address COVID-19 disparities across Arizona by improving the delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and information while building on existing networks and relationships with health providers in rural and underserved communities.
The two-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) is part of the “ADHS-CDC National Initiative to Address COVID-19 Disparities among Populations at High Risk and Underserved, Including Racial and Ethnic Minority Populations and Rural Communities.” The Center for Rural Health is housed in the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, part of UArizona Health Sciences.
“This CDC-ADHS funding will be very valuable in helping rural communities fight COVID,” said Dan Derksen, MD, director of the Center for Rural Health and principal investigator for the initiative. “This collaboration builds on our vital partnership with ADHS and rural health providers around the state. The programs enabled by these funds will make a real difference; they will save lives and livelihoods.”
The Center for Rural Health will focus on two of the CDC-ADHS COVID-19 Disparities Initiative’s overarching strategies:
- Expand existing or develop new mitigation and prevention resources and services to reduce COVID-19 related disparities among underserved and high-risk populations.
- Mobilize partners to advance health equity and address the social determinants of health related to COVID-19 health disparities among higher risk and underserved populations.
“Often, rural communities in Arizona don’t have the health care resources they need, and the spread of COVID-19 has highlighted those disparities,” said Michael D. Dake, MD, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences. “Through this grant, the partnerships developed by the Center for Rural Health with local health care providers and community health workers across the state will be able to reach those communities more effectively.”
The Center for Rural Health will work closely with the Mobile Outreach Vaccine Education for Underserved Populations (MOVE UP) Program and the Advancing Health Equity, Addressing Disparities in Arizona (AHEAD) Program. MOVE UP sends mobile health units to underserved urban and rural communities to give vaccine shots and information, while AHEAD includes a champions campaign to enlist and train local vaccine advocates. The two programs serve as the initiative’s key outreach components and inspire its motto: “MOVE UP and AHEAD in Arizona.”
The center also will use the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Program to deliver targeted messaging to county and tribal health departments. Other collaborations with the Arizona Medical-assistance (AzMAT) Mentors Program and the Arizona Telemedicine Program will help improve access to testing and vaccination and further support targeted messaging on COVID-19 prevention and mitigation. Education and training resources and toolkits will be developed to increase COVID-19 knowledge among rural public health system partners.
The initiative will be guided by Dr. Derksen and co-leaders Mona Arora, PhD, MSPH, assistant professor at the Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Jen Peters, program manager for the Center’s State Office of Rural Health program. Dr. Arora, who previously served as co-chair for the UArizona COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, brings considerable experience and expertise in emergency disease response and vaccine distribution.
“Dr. Derksen and the team at the Center for Rural Health have made such a big difference in the health of our rural and underserved communities, and this new funding shows their continued commitment to public health across Arizona,” said Iman Hakim, MD, MPH, dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health, “With Mona Arora and Jen Peters as co-leaders on this initiative working to implement the COVID disparities programs, we will reach many Arizonans who need public health services and support. All of us in the college are very proud of what this team is accomplishing.”