NIH CEAL Spotlights Community-Engaged Research at APHA

Featuring more than 30 presentations and events covering a range of promising practices and lessons learned in the field of community-engaged research, the National Institutes of Health Community Engagement Alliance (NIH CEAL or CEAL) had a strong presence at the November 2023 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting & Expo in Atlanta. CEAL teams and representatives presented the program’s research activities, successes, and lessons learned since its inception in September 2020. 

A highlight of the APHA annual meeting was the CEAL Symposium. This three-panel discussion brought together community partners, research teams, and NIH leadership to share promising practices from CEAL’s work over the past three years. Entitled “Promoting Health Equity Through Community Interventions: Promising Practices from NIH’s Community Engagement Alliance,” the event drew an audience of nearly 250 over the four-hour session. 

In his opening remarks, CEAL co-chair Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities, told the story of how the NIH mobilized the first CEAL Regional Teams in 2020 to address disparities and encourage participation in clinical trials in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  Those first teams focused on COVID-19 awareness, education, and research to support people in communities of color.  

Dr. Pérez-Stable explained that the NIH started CEAL as an equal partnership, co-creation, and collaboration among communities, scientists, and public health leaders. By partnering with community-based organizations and involving local people in their efforts, CEAL teams have helped address the distrust of science expressed in many communities during the pandemic. “Community-engaged research is a scientific approach to making a difference,” Dr. Pérez-Stable said.

Following opening remarks, the three panels spotlighted the perspectives and voices of trusted messengers and community partners, the challenges, successes, and lessons learned from promoting health equity, and the work of the CEAL Consultative Resource (CEACR). Panelists included representatives from CEAL Regional Teams around the country, NIH, and others working on the CEAL initiative. 

Reverend Dr. Kendrick Curry, co-chair of the CEAL Steering Committee, moderated the first panel where representatives from the Georgia, New Mexico, and New York CEAL Regional Teams shared how they worked with their communities to build and maintain trust. Julian Santiago Ramón, community outreach engagement director with the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia (HHCGA), talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic opened a “vault of silent pandemics” in other disease states such as diabetes, chronic disease, HIV, and mental health. He highlighted the importance of building resilient communities through education and how HHCGA partnered with the Georgia CEAL team to create health fairs for their Hispanic/Latino community members that continue today. “If you need a community to trust you, you need to show up for them,” Santiago Ramón said.

“Earning trust takes time,” added Dr. Linda Son-Stone, CEO of First Nations Community HealthSource , a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that provides healthcare services to urban Indians in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico. The organization maintained trust during the pandemic by continuing to offer in-person services and increased outreach to homebound patients. They provided transportation to ensure patients could access services and issued hotel vouchers to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Son-Stone shared that by seeking input from the community and meeting their needs, the FQHC has built and sustained a trusting relationship. 

The second panel was moderated by Dr. Gregory Talavera of San Diego State University and co-chair of the CEAL Steering Committee. Representatives from the Alabama, DMV, Michigan, and Illinois CEAL Regional Teams explored the challenges, successes, and lessons learned from creating partnerships with academic, faith- and community-based organizations to promote health equity and accurate health information. Dr. Moana Foud, the Alabama CEAL Principal Investigator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, explained how their “Communication Engine” allows for the rapid creation and dissemination of the latest health information in a relatable and digestible format for their communities. Dr. Mellissa Clarke with the DMV CEAL team discussed how they worked with a coalition of churches in Washington, D.C. called the “Virtual Health Ministry,” which came together to assess the social and health needs in the community during the pandemic. However, Dr. Clarke said, “You can’t wait for a crisis to build trust,” which is why working with community-based organizations is so important. They already have established relationships that form the foundation of trust.

The final panel was moderated by Dr. Maliha Ilias, program director at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and Scientific Program Lead for CEACR. The panel was a focused discussion about best practices learned from CEACR consultations from the perspective of those who served on expert panels and those who received the consultations. One of the panelists, Lydia Lerma, vice president of the White Horse Creek Council and founder and director of the Lydia Lerma Foundation, shared a powerful story as an American Indian experiencing Long COVID . The panelists discussed how Lydia’s experiences led her to share her expertise with CEACR and serve as a member of the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery National Community Engagement Group, which was established to ensure community participation in the research process. 

Dr. George Mensah, director of The Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science at NHLBI, wrapped up the symposium by reiterating the CEAL mantra, which is to move “at the speed of trust.” Dr. Mensah encouraged participants to continue shining a light on the health disparities made glaringly apparent during the pandemic  and to keep the flame alive so CEAL can continue working to close the gap and reduce inequities. 

Four people are pictured at the APHA Event in 2023

Last updated: January 26, 2024