By Cindy Foster

UNM TREE Center Working with Communities to Mitigate COVID

From intermittent Internet access to perpetual shortages in medical personnel, New Mexico’s rural areas traditionally faced cultural and structural challenges to health care even before the current COVID pandemic hit.

 The University of New Mexico Health Sciences TREE Center recently received a grant to study how local and state governmental COVID-19 policies are mitigating existing health inequities of racial, ethnic and rural populations.

 The UNM HSC Transdisciplinary Research, Equity and Engagement Center for Advancing Behavioral Health (TREE Center) goal is to both document what has been working, as well as seeking best practices that can benefit the state’s – and ultimately, the nation’s – most vulnerable populations in the future, according Lisa Cacari Stone, PhD, associate professor in the College of Population Health and TREE Center’s director and principal investigator.

 “The $190,000 grant brings together infectious disease specialists with social scientists to analyze the structural determinants of COVID-19 on the nation’s racial and ethnic populations,” Cacari-Stone says.

 “We know that governmental policy is the largest determinant of health equity and access to care in these communities, yet they are overlooked by all levels of government,” she says.

 This study expands on several aims of the TREE Center, including compilation of common data sets for team analyses, scientific workforce development, translation and dissemination of evidence for health disparity interventions and community and multi-stakeholder engagement for advancing health equity outcomes.

 Researchers will be working with a sensitivity toward pandemic-fatigued communities around the state, she says. 

 The pandemic has already affected research projects, and the TREE Center wants to maintain a respectful distance while working to investigate the effects of local policies.

 “We went for a secondary data analysis in order to avoid disturbing communities who are already suffering from grave health, social and economic hardships,” Cacari Stone says. “We think this will allow us to pull together the best data that can be used to drive future interventions and research priorities, while respecting the needs of our communities at this time.”

 “We believe the study will produce science-based policy recommendations designed to improve health and arrest the amplification of health inequities during our current COVID-19 pandemic," adds Blake Boursaw, MS, of the UNM College of Nursing.

TREE Center Investigators collaborating to pair infectious disease modeling with the structural determinants of health include Cacari Stone, Boursaw, sociology doctoral fellow Kasim Ortiz, MS, MD-MPH student Carlos Linares,  Clinical & Translational Science Center researchers Yiliang Zhu, PhD, and Jessica Reno, MPH, and social epidemiologist Dr. Zinzi Bailey.

Categories: College of Population Health, Community Engagement, Diversity, Research, Top Stories