Updated on: June 25, 2020

New HHS Initiative to Support COVID-19 Fight to the Underserved

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Original story posted on: June 24, 2020

The project will focus closely on those struggling with issues associated with the social determinants of health (SDoH).

The Atlanta-based Morehouse School of Medicine has been selected as the recipient of $40 million in federal funding to help ramp up the fight against COVID-19 in racially and ethnically diverse, rural, and socially vulnerable communities, according to an announcement made Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH).

As the selected recipient, Morehouse will enter into a cooperative agreement with OMH to lead an “initiative to coordinate a strategic network of national, state, territorial, tribal, and local organizations to deliver COVID-19-related information to communities hardest hit by the pandemic,” according to an HHS press release issued this week.

“The Trump Administration has made it a priority to support and empower Americans who have been most impacted by COVID-19, including minority, rural, and socially vulnerable communities,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “This new partnership between the Morehouse School of Medicine and our Office of Minority Health will work with trusted community organizations to bring information on COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and other services to the Americans who need it.”

“Underlying social determinants of health and disparate burdens of chronic medical conditions are contributing to worse COVID-19-related outcomes in minority and socially vulnerable communities, and this partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine is essential to improving our overall response,” Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Brett P. Giroir, M.D., added. “We’ve made important strides over the past few months in fighting the pandemic, and with Morehouse School of Medicine as our partner, we are ready to advance our efforts to support our most affected communities.”

The initiative has been titled the National Infrastructure for Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19 within Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities (NIMIC). It encompasses a three-year project designed to involve community-based organizations across the nation in delivering education and information on resources; officials said the aforementioned information network will “strengthen efforts to link communities to COVID-19 testing, healthcare, and social services, and to best share and implement effective response, recovery and resilience strategies.”

The social determinants of health (SDoH) are the conditions in which citizens live, work, grow, and age, and they can include working conditions; unemployment; underemployment; access to essential goods and services such as water, sanitation and food; housing; and access to quality healthcare. Such conditions may reflect inequities experienced by disadvantaged communities, leading to poor health status and adverse health outcomes, requiring community- and systems-level responses. 

“We know the power of partnerships to help us solve our most pressing public health challenges,” U.S. Surgeon General VADM Jerome M. Adams, M.D., M.P.H., said. “This initiative has at its core the community-based organizations who know their people best, and who are committed to working collaboratively to reduce health inequities and make them healthy and safe.”

Morehouse, founded in 1975, was originally part of Morehouse College, one of the marquee historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in operation nationwide, and the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders. The School of Medicine became independent in 1981 and has since produced notable graduates of its own, including Regina Benjamin, in 2009 named the 18th Surgeon General of the United States. In 2011, the School was recognized by the Annals of Internal Medicine as the nation’s top medical school dedicated to fulfilling a social mission, and in late 2017, the School announced the beginning of an approximately $50 million expansion, to include a planned 7.2-acre mixed-use real estate development, including housing, health and wellness, and retail for students, faculty, and staff. 

The NIMIC initiative is expected to begin in July, and the first award is for $14.6 million.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in nearly 2.5 million positive diagnoses and nearly 125,000 deaths in the U.S., accounting for approximately a quarter of the worldwide totals in each category.

For more information about the Office of Minority Health, go online to www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/.

Mark Spivey

Mark Spivey is a national correspondent for RACmonitor.com, ICD10monitor.com, and Auditor Monitor who has been writing and editing material about the federal oversight of American healthcare for more than a decade. He can be reached at mcspivey@hotmail.com.

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