Two University of Tennessee at Chattanooga faculty members have been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Health to collaborate with faith-based communities to build an Intrastate Network to Deliver Equity and Eliminate Disparities (INDEED).
Kristi Wick, Vicki B. Gregg Chair of Gerontology and assistant professor in the UTC School of Nursing, and Jessica Freeman, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, will serve as primary investigators for INDEED.
The project, part of a larger statewide initiative to address COVID-19 health disparities among high-risk and underserved populations, aims to strengthen faith organizations’ capacities to support aging individuals in their congregations impacted by the pandemic, chronic illness, dementia-related conditions, and the social determinants of health.
Wick said the goals of the grant include establishing and linking sustainable congregational networks across Tennessee as well as to expand emotional support hotlines and support groups. The project will provide training materials for volunteer congregate members to serve as care navigators who provide health education, caregiver support and community resource referrals for vulnerable congregation members and neighboring communities.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted longstanding health inequities in disparate communities across Tennessee,” said Charlotte Woods, director of the Tennessee Department of Health Office of Minority Health. “These inequities, coupled with a shortage of health care providers, provide an opportunity for reimagining the delivery of community health statewide. By engaging faith communities in health education and navigation, we leverage existing, trusted community relationships to extend our reach to vulnerable communities left untouched by our current healthcare system.”
Eight-five percent of Tennesseans affiliate with one of the state’s 11,500 houses of faith, according to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“As congregants age, supporting those experiencing physical or cognitive decline and their caregivers becomes increasingly important,” Wick said. As such, the initiative aims to mobilize these existing faith-based organizations to support congregants in need, she said.
This project builds on the engAGING Communities, Southeast Tennessee initiative, which was created as part of a Tennessee Dementia Friendly Community grant awarded to the UTC School of Nursing in 2019. Partners will include the Alzheimer’s Association Tennessee chapter, Honoring Choices Tennessee, CITConnect.org and the Offices of Patient Care Advocacy and Minority Health at the Tennessee Department of Health.
“COVID-19 was especially hard on the aging community, especially those with dementia and their caregivers. Faith organizations are part of the fabric of local communities in Tennessee and often provide integral services to their congregations and community, at-large. Providing these faith communities with the tools they need to support their congregations and communities in the recovery from COVID-19 and other health challenges moving forward will better ensure we are reaching all populations in all areas of Tennessee,” stated Wick.
For more information about the initiative, please visit www.utc.edu/engaging-communities.