On the anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown, President Biden in his speech noted COVID-19 has had a significant impact on everyone’s lives and that “while it was different for everyone, we all lost something.” We must acknowledge that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) have larger losses, in comparison to Whites. The losses that BIPOC, and especially Latinos, have experienced during COVID-19 have important implications for stress, and consequently mental health outcomes. We must recognize the major stressors Latino families are facing under COVID-19 so that we can address the health needs of this group as we move forward.
Interdisciplinary Research Leaders
Why we organized this special session. Regardless of where teams are on their three-year IRL journey, fellows have been sharing how their communities are responding to the norm-altering disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural racism, murders of our Black community members, and political turmoil surrounding the presidential election. Fellows have also been sharing the challenge of continuing their research and community engagement activities in a way that centers community voice during this unprecedented time. The January 2021 cross-cohort virtual forum was designed to share IRL teams’ common ground and leverage their experiences tackling community engagement and research challenges.
As a team, we’re all involved in work with criminal justice populations. We’ve been particularly interested in how we can provide better access to substance use and mental health treatment among folks who are under community supervision, so people who are on probation or parole.
We proposed to do a pilot study integrating telehealth counseling into a probation parole office setting. We have a lot of folks in Arkansas who live in very rural communities. They have poor access to behavioral health treatment, yet they’re under community supervision. They’re mandated to come in and interact with their probation parole officer. Plus, if they’re required to attend treatment, they’ll have to find a way to actually show up. We figured if we integrate all this, folks could go to their probation office and get more services so they wouldn’t have to show up a bunch of different times. We designed a telehealth intervention, six counseling sessions.
We started enrolling people in that, and then COVID hit. Our probation parole offices had to shut down. We were focusing on one area, one office, and now we’re taking a step back and saying, “Ok. Let’s talk to other area offices that serve rural areas.”
My team members are Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician and Cary Simmons, a landscape architect. Our project is about schoolyard conversions – to explore how green schoolyards can become community parks – and we’re working in the city of Tacoma, Washington. Cary and the Trust for Public Land (TPL), our community partner, has analyzed communities all around the Puget Sound area. They’ve found that underserved neighborhoods often have a dearth of parks, and that’s the situation in our study location.
Our team partnered with the I AM ABLE Center for Family Development on the West Side of Chicago. They are a wellness and mental health center. They created a model – TR4IM (Trauma Response and Intervention Movement). We’re working with them to do a program evaluation of that particular model and building capacity so they can do evaluation of the work moving forward. That might help them seek additional funding.
Somewhat separately, we’re doing qualitative work with people who have been part of the program, to get their feedback and see if there are barriers to success or things that people who are engaged in the program think would be a good idea to consider shifting.
The name of our project is Improving Health Among Youth in Rural Appalachia: Enhancing School-Based Health Centers. I am the community leader. The two researchers, one is at Penn State University, and the other is at Child Trends.
What we’re studying is the school-based health center model. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of school-based health centers before, but they are nation-wide. Here in West Virginia, they started in the mid-90s. Our state has more school-based health centers per capita than any state in the country, and we have some of the oldest in the country. They’re a great health delivery model to ensure kids have access to comprehensive health care.
We’ve never had anyone study the efficacy of them, the challenges they face, and the opportunities to expand the model and address some of the incredible health inequities that our kids face here in West Virginia, whether that be due to poverty, the rural landscape, or to the ongoing drug crisis.
My interest is to try and promote the model to address some of these inequities. For our IRL project, we’ve done a number of interviews with providers around the state who work in these school-based health centers to hear what works, what doesn’t work, opportunities to do better, and the potential policy reform efforts that I could undertake to help them reach out to the kids who are in need of services.