Grant will help Black churches fight COVID-19

Berkley-Patton, JanetteCOVID-19 has infected, hospitalized and killed Black Americans at a higher rate compared with whites. As it has with other health disparities, the University of Missouri-Kansas City is going to partner with churches to fight this one. The National Institutes of Health has awarded UMKC a two-year, $1.9 million grant to do so as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant, director of the UMKC Health Equity Institute and a professor at the School of Medicine. “This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.”

The team of investigators on the grant are from UMKC, Children’s Mercy, University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Massachusetts, University of California-San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University. In addition to churches and their leaders and members, they will work in partnership with Calvary Community Outreach Network and the Kansas City Health Department for testing, contact tracing and linkage to care services.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City. This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.” – Jannette Berkley-Patton

“One of our aims with the grant is to not only expand testing but to also help get the community prepared for the vaccine,” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., an investigator of the grant, dean of the UMKC School of Medicine and an infectious disease expert at Children’s Mercy. “Vaccine confidence relies on trust and transparent communication of vaccine science and safety. The mistrust among people of color about the COVID-19 vaccine stems back toward experience in other research impacting this population, namely the Tuskegee trials in 1932 to study syphilis where Black males were not provided treatment.”

Key social determinants contribute to the disparities for Blacks and COVID-19 including essential public-facing jobs, cultural norms like medical and contact tracing mistrust and limited access to health care. African Americans also have a high burden of chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which put them at an increased risk for COVID-19.

Studies, including UMKC investigations led by Berkley-Patton, have shown that community-engaged research with African American churches has led to health screening uptake for HIV and STD testing and reducing risks for diabetes. Yet, no proven COVID-19 testing interventions exist for African American churches, which have wide reach and influence in their communities, high attendance rates and supportive health and social services for community members.

At churches, the grant aims to reach people through sermons, testimonials, church bulletins, and text messages. This also includes faith leaders promoting testing – and getting tested in front of their congregations – so that people can actually see what the testing process looks like.

To date, Berkley-Patton’s work has been supported by more than $12 million in federal grants over the past 14 years. The community-engaged research she has conducted in partnership with faith communities has benefited people in the Kansas City area as well as Alabama and Jamaica.

“At UMKC, we fight racial inequity at all levels, and that includes life-saving health care at our public urban research university,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “We are proud of the work Dr. Berkley-Patton is leading through proven strategies at places of worship. We know this team of investigators and their partners will help keep our community safer from COVID-19.”

School of Medicine announces new assistant dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

The School of Medicine announced that Doris C. Agwu, M.P.H., will serve in the new position of assistant dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Agwu has 11 years of experience with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in academics, business and community work. Under the leadership of associate dean Tyler Smith, M.D., Agwu will work to expand the school’s focus on current diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Her new role will also include implementing new programs to recruit, educate and serve students, residents and faculty, and emphasize initiatives to ensure a positive learning environment.

At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Agwu earned a bachelor of arts in psychology, a bachelor of science in biology, a minor in business administration and a master’s degree in public health. She served as a research specialist at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing where she created strategies to address the health care needs of rural Missouri women over the age of 50. She also has served as medical department chair for Bryan University in Columbia, where she spearheaded diversity and inclusion initiatives, taught multiple courses and managed more than 20 direct reports.

In her most recent role as director of engagement and coordinator of underrepresented minority student recruitment at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Arts and Sciences, she worked to drive inclusion, diversity and equity strategies through best practices to ensure an inclusive culture. She implemented long-term strategic outreach efforts for the college, and collaborated with senior leaders and key stakeholders on state and community programming.

A 2019 recipient of the University G.O.L.D. award for service to the alumni community, Agwu is the vice president of the Mizzou Black Alumni Network. She is also membership co-chair of the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women. She was selected as a member of the new, chancellor-appointed Equity Resolution Hearing Panel and is a charter member of the central Missouri chapter of The Links, Incorporated, serving as the technology/PR/communication chair.

Agwu said she understands the needs of all students to address issues of marginalization.

“I want all Black students to know that their lives matter,” Agwu said. “I want all students of color, including Asian, Hispanic/Latinx and indigenous students, to know their cultures and unique experiences are significant. I want all women to know they have autonomy over their bodies. I want all LGBTQIA students to feel embraced and supported, and for students with disabilities, that they can access everything.”

SOM’s Angela Nwankwo serving national leadership role with SNMA

Third-year medical student Angela Nwankwo has been selected to a national leadership position with the Student National Medical. She is serving as co-chair of organization’s national publications committee.

She took on her new role earlier this year during a virtual meeting of the annual SNMA Medical Education Conference. The educational and networking event is the nation’s largest gathering of underrepresented minority medical students and professionals.

Nwankwo has previously participated in the SNMA’ s National Future Leadership Fellow program. She has served as vice president of the School of Medicine’s group chapter. She has been secretary of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Interest Group and a student representative on the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and the Council on Evaluation.

She serves a clinic manager for the school’s student-run Sojourner Health Clinic and the Kansas City Free Eye Clinic.

SNMA is the national oldest and largest student-run organization that focuses on the needs of medical students of color. With chapters across the country, it has a membership of more than 7,000 medical and pre-medical students and physicians.