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JSU, Vicksburg, and Jackson-Hinds secure $3 million grant to combat COVID-19, improve health literacy among at-risk communities




Jackson State University, the city of Vicksburg, and Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health recently collaborated to secure a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. The funds are part of a new, two-year initiative designed to advance health literacy and enhance equitable community responses to COVID-19 while identifying and implementing best practices for improving health literacy in Vicksburg.

“I think it is important for institutions of higher education to be at the forefront of educating communities on health-related issues so they can make informed decisions that will enhance their quality of life and, in instances, extend their life, especially in the wake of COVID-19,” said Thomas K. Hudson, president of JSU. “This initiative is a significant step toward the elimination of health disparities caused by longstanding systemic and structural inequities.”

Through project COVID-19 Health literacy, Accessibility, Management, Prevention, Intervention, Outcomes, and New Skills (CHAMPIONS) for equitable communities, the three entities will implement a health literacy intervention program specifically targeting Vicksburg’s diverse community, which will most likely encounter challenges with health literacy, healthcare experiences, and engaging with public health messages promoting COVID-19 prevention.

Many of the project’s activities will be implemented at Jackson-Hinds, the largest community health center in Central Mississippi.

Vicksburg meets the Health Resources and Services Administration’s definition of rural and has a population of 21,653. According to the U.S. Census, 67 percent are Black/African American, and 3 percent are Hispanic/Latino. Additionally, 30.7 percent of Vicksburg residents meet the Census Bureau’s definition of poverty, and 15 percent of residents do not have health insurance. Statistically, it appears residents aim to benefit from the CHAMPIONS project.

“The city of Vicksburg is proud to collaborate with Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, Jackson State University, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health for this unique opportunity to benefit our communities,” said George Flaggs Jr, mayor of Vicksburg. “By improving health literacy distribution, we’re essentially improving access to healthcare for groups of people who statistically need it most. I’m looking forward to the work ahead.”

The project also includes training Jackson-Hinds employees to implement health literacy strategies at all points of contact during healthcare experiences. Additionally, a plan to sustain health literacy strategies and adherence to COVID-19 policies and other future public health recommendations will be designed.

“The COVID-19 Health Literacy Project will provide the opportunity for the citizens of Vicksburg to become more knowledgeable about COVID-19, its effects and prevention measures, as well as improving health literacy in the communities we serve,” said Dr. Jasmin Chapman, CEO of Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health. “I would also like to thank Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson for his insight in sharing this grant information with us.”

Aside from spearheading grant writing efforts, Jackson State will be responsible for the project evaluation. The project’s quality improvement and evaluation approach will be led by a lead project evaluator and project personnel, consisting of faculty and students, in the university’s School of Public Health.

“Project CHAMPIONS provides an opportunity for the City of Vicksburg to meet this moment in a significant way. By working with Jackson-Hinds to implement health literacy strategies that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, Project CHAMPIONS has the opportunity to combat vaccine myths and hesitancy and consequently, minimize the risks of COVID-19 in Vicksburg,” said Dr. Brandi Newkirk-Turner, associate provost at JSU.

To date, 73 local governments have received a combined $250 million in grant funds to improve health literacy and COVID-19 vaccination rates and other mitigation practices among underserved populations.

The initiative is part of the Biden/Harris Administration’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.

According to a release, over the next two years, awardee projects will demonstrate the effectiveness of working with local community-based organizations to develop health literacy plans to increase the availability, acceptability, and use of COVID-19 public health information and services by racial and ethnic minority populations.

The projects will also focus on other populations considered vulnerable for not receiving and using COVID-19 public health information. Recipients are also expected to leverage local data to identify racial and ethnic minority populations at the highest risk for health disparities and low health literacy and populations not currently reached through existing public health campaigns.

The initiative began on July 1.

Click here to access the list of awardees.

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