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MaineHealth awarded nearly $1M by National Institutes of Health to study COVID-19 testing in higher risk communities

September 20, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Caroline Cornish
207-662-5146 / ccornish@mainehealth.org

PORTLAND, Maine – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded MaineHealth $940,140 to study ways to make regular COVID-19 testing more accessible and increase testing usage among Maine’s immigrant, low-income and homeless populations. The grant, part of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, 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 Kathleen Fairfield, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.PH., of Maine Medical Center and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) and MMCRI’s Vice President of Research Elizabeth Jacobs, M.D., MAPP. 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.

Kathleen Fairfield, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.PH


“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 Dr. 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.

“Preble Street is thrilled to partner with MaineHealth on this important effort,” said Mark Swann, Executive Director of Preble Street. “COVID has created yet another fear and complication in the lives of our unhoused neighbors. As a community, we have a health equity and public health imperative to focus COVID-19 resources on marginalized groups, including people experiencing homelessness. By offering low-barrier, easily accessible testing services, this grant will not only improve individual safety but will also strengthen the health infrastructure of the shelter system and our community.”

“Greater Portland Health is excited to participate in this important work as we are committed to providing access to testing and vaccines for the most vulnerable in our community,” said Renee Fay-LeBlanc, M.D., FACP, Chief Medical Officer of Greater Portland Health.

MMCRI also will collaborate 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.

“ProsperityME looks forward to this opportunity to help make our communities healthier and to connect improved health with economic benefits,” Claude Rwaganje, Executive Director of ProsperityME, said.

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. Testing sites are expected to open by the end of 2021.

The research described is supported by the National Institute Of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54GM115516. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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About Maine Medical Center
Maine Medical Center (MMC), recognized as a Best Regional Hospital by U.S. News and World Report for 2021-2022, is a complete health care resource for the people of Greater Portland and the entire state, as well as northern New England. Incorporated in 1868, MMC is the state’s largest medical center, licensed for 637 beds and employing more than 9,600 people. MMC's unique role as both a community hospital and a referral center requires an unparalleled depth and breadth of services, including an active educational program and a world-class biomedical research center. As a nonprofit institution, Maine Medical Center provides nearly 23 percent of all the charity care delivered in Maine. MMC is part of the MaineHealth system, a growing family of health care services in northern New England. For more information, visit www.mmc.org.


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