NIH awards MaineHealth nearly $1M to study COVID-19 testing in higher risk communities

Mon, 09/20/2021 - 4:15pm

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded MaineHealth $940,140 Sept. 20 for studying how to expand access to regular COVID-19 testing for Maine’s immigrant, low-income and homeless populations. The grant is part of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program. It is a supplement to MaineHealth’s Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network grant to expand clinical research in the region and address the needs of underserved populations. MaineHealth may receive an additional $1.4 million in funding next year, contingent on one-year progress.

The study will be led by Dr. Kathleen Fairfield, of Maine Medical Center and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) and its Vice President of Research Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs. They will be working with community partners to reduce barriers to testing and use a variety of messaging strategies to encourage at-risk populations to get tested regularly.

“We know that we need to use a variety of strategies to contain this pandemic, including masking and equitable access to testing and vaccination,” said Fairfield. “This study is about how we make COVID-19 testing accessible and acceptable to populations who are at higher risk of contracting COVID, and build trust with the medical community.”

As part of the study, MMCRI will work with organizations including Preble Street and Greater Portland Health to increase access to walk-up COVID-19 testing sites in Portland and with ProsperityME to develop insights into the cultural, behavioral, economic and other factors impacting people’s decision-making about testing. Staff with the City of Portland’s Public Health Division will participate in advisory committees to aid the research.

The research team will follow 150 people from Greater Portland’s immigrant, low-income and homeless population for one year to see if their attitudes toward getting regular COVID-19 testing has changed and whether the interventions result in increased testing.

“This grant doesn’t just fund important COVID-19 research at MaineHealth,” Dr. Jacobs said. “It provides additional financial resources to our partner organizations so they can continue their essential work of improving health equity and community engagement with the health care system.”

The study will begin immediately and testing sites will likely open by the end of 2021.