WVSOM contributes toolkit to National Institutes of Health program

WVSOM, June 12

A toolkit showcasing some of the successes of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s (WVSOM) Center for Rural and Community Health (CRCH) is now available to other organizations involved in “community-engaged research”­ — work that incorporates the input of community members into research whose results will impact the community in question.

Two speakers from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Community Engagement Alliance Consultative Resource (CEACR) — a program of the NIH’s Community Engagement Alliance — made the announcement during a June 6 event on WVSOM’s campus in Lewisburg.

Mylynda Massart, M.D., Ph.D., and Emily Finley are among the directors of CEACR, which serves as a channel for NIH-funded research teams interested in applying best practices of community-engaged approaches to address health disparities and ensure inclusion in research programs. Massart and Finley spoke to an audience of employees of WVSOM and other higher education institutions, local health professionals and community leaders, explaining that the NIH wanted to compile success stories of WVSOM’s CRCH into a publicly accessible resource.

“We were impressed by the work being done here,” Massart said. “We’re telling your story to uplift examples of trust-building partnership and collaboration between local communities and an academic institution to address health inequities, to disseminate approaches to integrating community voices and leadership into health research programming, to highlight ways institutions can invest resources in support of sustainable, community-led infrastructure, and to demonstrate how community partnerships are uniquely suited to address social determinants of health.”

Massart said the CEACR program aims to help research teams that face challenges in research that engages marginalized communities.

The toolkit highlights two of the many projects in which the WVSOM CRCH has participated: its assistance with emergency task forces that organized disaster relief following flooding in Greenbrier County in 2016 and hosted vaccine clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Greenbrier County Health Alliance’s Community Ambassador Program, which works to improve health in remote areas of the county without easy access to services, resources and support systems.

The toolkit emphasizes that participation in programs like these creates a foundation of reciprocity with community members, which supports future community-engaged research. It explains that the WVSOM CRCH has learned that trust can be built through activities such as establishing partnerships before research is conducted, prioritizing serving the community, leaning on community expertise and dedicating funding for community projects.

Brian Hendricks, Ph.D., executive director of the CRCH, said WVSOM’s success stories will be useful to academic institutions and other organizations that may need help learning how to engage rural or underserved communities.

“I think of this as the CRCH’s introduction into the world of community-engaged research,” Hendricks said. “It’s our opportunity to share strategies we’ve successfully implemented with people who may be struggling to engage with communities elsewhere. It’s also a way to let the world know that we are experts in this area and ready to collaborate.”

Hendricks said that the NIH has begun providing funding opportunities to community organizations that previously may not have qualified for assistance, and that toolkits such as WVSOM’s can be a valuable resource.

“The National Institutes of Health has previously funded health research at academic institutions, hospitals and other larger allied health agencies. However, NIH is also now offering funding to smaller, community-based organizations. This toolkit is published nationally and can serve as a frame of reference for anyone wanting to conduct NIH-funded, community-engaged research,” he said.

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