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Rutgers Team Leads Evidence-Based COVID-19 Health Literacy Project for City of Newark Initiative Funded by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

A Rutgers team consisting of faculty from the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) at Rutgers University–Newark and affiliated faculty in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers-New Brunswick has partnered with the City of Newark, NJ, on an initiative to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccination among underserved populations.

Principal investigator Charles Menifield, professor, along with Diane Hill, assistant professor of professional practice, Miyeon Song, assistant professor, and Gregg Van Ryzin, professor and interim dean from Rutgers SPAA, along with Shawna Hudson, professor, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, are leading the effort to assist the city in demonstrating evidence-based health literacy strategies to enhance COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and other mitigation measures in socially vulnerable populations.

The team is providing an Evaluation and Quality Improvement Plan for the Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19 grant received by Newark's Department of Health and Community Wellness (DHCW) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH). Specifically, during the course of Newark's two-year, $3,875,000 grant, the Rutgers team is engaging in five key activities in conjunction with the City of Newark’s Department of Health and Community Wellness and other collaborative partners, which include a formative evaluation; qualitative interviews; data comparison; community survey research; and a quality improvement process.

“The partnership between Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration and the Newark Department of Health is built on a mutual desire to provide residents with the skills needed to understand and use information to make better health-related decisions and advocate for themselves when needed,” says Ketlen Baptiste Alsbrook, health director for the City of Newark.

Nikeysha Harris-Neal, manager of health education and community engagement at Newark's DHCW, adds that “promoting health literacy through education and awareness will enhance efforts to improve the culture of health in our city.”

As part of the evaluation of the initiative, SPAA conducted a survey of a representative sample of adult residents of Newark. The Newark Community Health Survey, as it was called, was modeled on the New Jersey Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (BRFS) and other federal health surveys and asked questions about respondents’ health status, access to healthcare, and COVID-related attitudes, risk factors, and behaviors.

The Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19 initiative seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of local government implementation of evidence-based health literacy strategies that are culturally appropriate to enhance COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and/or other mitigation measures (e.g., public health prevention practices and vaccination) in racial and ethnic minority populations and other socially vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minority rural communities. OMH looked to allocate $250 million to fund approximately 30 projects in urban communities and 43 projects in rural communities for a period of two years, and expected grant recipients to include a culturally appropriate health literacy plan to enhance COVID-19 vaccination, testing, contact tracing and/or other mitigation efforts among racial and ethnic minority and other socially vulnerable communities. 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, as well as populations not currently reached through existing public health campaigns.