The Biden Administration recently announced an effort to invest $250 million to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccination among underserved populations through health literacy grants. In this episode, learn how some of the grant requirements may forge new advances in more equitable communication.
There’s some big news in health literacy, to the tune of $250 million in grants for covid-19 outreach. Learn about this new federal initiative, who’s eligible, and two things to consider if you’re going to apply. Hi everybody, I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. This is 10 minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners, an independent health equity-focused communication and education consultancy.
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The health literacy field was front page news recently, as the Biden Administration announced an effort to invest $250 million to encourage covid-19 safety and vaccinations among underserved populations through health literacy grants. This new initiative is called Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19. Vice president Kamala Harris made the announcement during her remarks to the National League of Cities Congressional City conference. And in the video she says, “Today we have a big announcement and we’re actually making it right here with you because these are the communities you serve!” And I’ll go ahead and put a link to the video from the White House youtube channel in the show notes.
We got a little more information from the HHS.gov press release that reads in part: “As part of President Biden’s National strategy for the covid-19 response and pandemic preparedness, today the administration is announcing an effort to invest 250 million dollars to encourage COVID-19 safety and vaccination among underserved populations. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health will offer the funding as health literacy grants to localities who will partner with community-based organizations to reach racial and ethnic minority Rural and other vulnerable populations.”
So this new initiative is expected to fund about 30 projects in urban communities, 43 projects in Rural communities, so 73 total. Applicant eligibility is limited to local municipalities, such as County or Parish governments and city or Township governments, according to the grants notice. And there’s links to the grants.gov page also in the show notes. The press release indicated that the Office of Minority Health will be accepting applications for this new initiative through April 20th 2021. Now among other things, recipients are expected to be “partnering with community-based organizations and adhering to culturally and linguistically appropriate standards.” And that’s where I’m going to park it for a moment.
Community-based organization partnerships are important for several reasons, but I want to highlight one. And for this I’m going to turn to some words from Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. You may know Dr. Nunez-Smith is the chair of the Biden administration’s covid-19 Equity task force. Dr. Nunez-Smith is well known in the health literacy world. I’ve even mentioned her in one of our earliest podcast episodes. The Task Force was made to provide specific recommendations to the President for “mitigating the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.” And one of the responsibilities is, “recommendation for agencies regarding effective culturally aligned communication, messaging, and outreach to communities of color and other underserved populations.” Those quotes are from the executive order that established the Task Force. So the grant announcement is exciting, but so is the creation of this Task Force. And the decision to place Dr. Nunez-Smith at the head of it made a lot of people very, very happy, and we’re excited to see what she’s going to be able to accomplish leading this, chairing this Task Force.
But specifically I want to share something Dr. Nunez-Smith said in the closing weeks of 2020 on an American Medical Association video series, Prioritizing Equity. These comments were made in reference to the importance of collaboration and partnerships in getting things done around COVID-19 vaccination and communication. Dr. Nunez-Smith said “I think it’s so important the partnerships are going to be key. That’s critical from the beginning– co-design, co-ownership of all these messages.”
I think it’s so important the partnerships are going to be key. That’s critical from the beginning—co-design, co-ownership of all these messages.”
And it’s that phrase: “That’s critical from the beginning–co-design, co-ownership of these messages” that leaped out to me.
If you’re listening to this show, chances are vaccine communication has been on your mind. I did an episode on it in 2020, the end of 2020, I’ll go ahead and drop that in the notes. The recipients of this grant are expected to again partner with community-based organizations and adhere to culturally and linguistically appropriate standards. This looks like some real emphasis on the fact that each project in this set of health literacy activities needs to be responsive to the realities of the specific communities each is designed to serve.
So even though this is one initiative, it is not a one-size-fits-all effort. And I am here for it! This looks like a real chance for a federal level action on health literacy to come in the form of 73 different, locally-relevant responses.
How do we do this? I think Dr. Nunez-Smith gave us some good advice: co-design and co-ownership of the messages. The partnering with community-based organizations I think is a real chance to make this happen from the beginning. But it’s not easy work, and it may take new approaches and some new tools. New ways to locally develop communication in response to the strengths, needs, priorities, resources, values of the people involved.
Now, many of you read the Health Communication Partners website and tune into this podcast series because you value reflective practice, and thoughtful and intentional use of language, as routes toward reducing health disparities. And you know I’m interested in how health disparities are related to the words, phrases, and images that get used around issues of health. I offer different tools and processes–what you could do to be more effective and locally meaningful ways, based on decades of world-class research that connects communication, culture, and equity.
But just in case you’re new to this series, I’m going to go ahead and drop into the notes links to a few of my podcast episodes such as “How ordinary conversations and health care may contribute to health disparities.” Another one called, “Any conversation about care is also the conversation about culture.” A very early and really popular one called “How to ditch the deficit perspective,” and also a link for a workshop that I have on reducing cultural bias in your metaphors.
It’s possible for health literacy resources to be grounded in research and co-created and co-owned by the communities that are intended for. This is what it means to act on the individual and systemic levels. Such work is going to take collaboration and different kinds of expertise. That’s part of what I seek to do here. So if you’re an eligible applicant I’m happy to partner with you and offer multi-layered health literacy expertise. Reach out to me on Linked, on Twitter, visit HealthCommunicationPartners.com, click on contact. Or write me I’m Annemarie at H-cpartners.com. This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. I’m Dr. Anne-Marie Liebel.