Martha Carvour, MD, PhD, has received a three-year, $758K grant from the University of Iowa’s Strategic Initiatives Fund (UISIF) to begin a series of campus- and community-wide projects aimed at improving equity in health science and practice (E-HSP). Funds in the UISIF are generated from the public-private partnership Iowa established in 2019 and are to be used for goals aligned with the institution’s strategic plan, which includes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), as well as engagement.
The E-HSP project aims to alleviate long-standing imbalances in health care affecting patients who identify as members of a minoritized racial or ethnic group and/or who live in rural settings. The researchers will focus in part on interventions for people with COVID-19 and diabetes, two diseases that have disproportionately affected minoritized groups. In addition, the team hopes to create durable infrastructure to allow for a variety of similar projects for years to come.
“When the pandemic came to Iowa, it worsened long-standing health disparities and created new disparities on top of that,” Carvour said. “COVID-19 had a deeply unequal impact on minoritized groups and rural residents, and pandemic-related disruptions in care also made managing chronic conditions like diabetes more challenging for many patients. It’s really important—and really urgent—to minimize the impact of those disruptions on patients’ care to protect their long-term health. E-HSP is designed to do this by partnering Iowa faculty, staff, and students directly with Iowa communities to implement meaningful changes as quickly as possible.”
E-HSP will initially focus on increasing COVID-19 vaccinations among frontline, non-healthcare workers in Iowa and providing accessible, community-based support for diabetes care, such as community health navigators. Carvour’s team will also establish structures and methodology—such as a reliance on community partnerships—that can be replicated in future projects. In addition, E-HSP will engage students, staff, and faculty from across the university and the community to draw on a variety of expertise and experiences.
In addition to Carvour, assistant professor in Infectious Diseases, the E-HSP will be led by Kimberly Dukes, PhD, research assistant professor in General Internal Medicine, and Ebonee Johnson, PhD, CRC, assistant professor in the College of Public Health. These three have already begun to form connections with members of multiple colleges, existing research centers, and community organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, the College of Law’s Labor Center, the College of Education’s Baker Teacher Leader Center, and Iowa City’s Center for Worker Justice.
All the while this work is happening, the team will be educating others, learning from campus and community partners, and working closely with DEI leaders at the University of Iowa. As their successes build, the E-HSP will pursue larger federal funding sources like P30 center grants, individual research grants like R01s, and training grants like T32s. “Students will learn first-hand research methods in an important field and receive dedicated mentorship in health equity science. New relationships will be built here on campus and with the community, and,” Carvour said, “most importantly, we will work to restore trust and improve health among communities who have been left out of academic research for too long. We have so much to learn from our community partners. We are grateful for their support and grateful for the university’s investment in these partnerships.”