The Massachusetts Community Engagement Alliance (MA-CEAL) is a National Institutes of Health-funded research initiative that seeks to promote health equity for those hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and increase diversity in research participation to ensure advancements in science serve and benefit the community.
According to principal investigator Benjamin Linas, MD, MPH, “MA-CEAL reflects a real commitment by the National Institutes of Health to change the way that we operate in science and medicine to build a more diverse and inclusive science for the 21st century. During the peak of the COVID crisis, we all saw disparities emerge – in case rates, in testing, in vaccination rates, in outcomes, in social disruption, in economic disruption – really everything. MA CEAL’s mission is to identify those disparities, to give voice to the people who experience them, and to develop and evaluate interventions to mitigate them.”
Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an MA-CEAL co-investigator, adds, “The pandemic has exploited existing structural deficiencies in our society and health care system. The disproportionate impact of COVID on Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities is rooted in longstanding structural factors. These systemic issues lead to unequal access to resources. Early in the pandemic, we saw that when compared to white individuals, persons who identify as Black and Latino were more likely to get COVID. This was because many individuals who identify as Black and Latino work in essential jobs that could not be performed remotely.”
MA-CEAL’s outreach, education, and vaccination initiatives have focused on community engagement, whereby the team has invested time into the people they serve.
Hope White, Director of Community Engagement for MA-CEAL reflects, “Community engagement should be a part of every profession to ensure relationship development and partner connectivity. As we work in the communities we service, we may attend church, shop, and go to neighborhood festivals. We are intentional about creating relationships and spending time in these neighborhoods outside of work. Effective community engagement builds trust and validates the work you are trying to accomplish. You are then viewed as the expert and a person who truly cares.”
MA-CEAL and the Clinical Research Network (CRN) have collaborated in a variety of ways over the last two years by attending community events together and sharing resources with the community to promote the work they are involved in. The teams have collaborated on the facilitation of BMC’s medical interpreter training, presented about COVID-19 at Union Capital Boston’s community Resource Nights, and highlighted their programs to a national audience hosted by the Community Engagement Alliance Consultative Resource (CEACR) that elevates best practices through the CEAL network.
Hope continues, “The MA-CEAL Community Engagement team has grown incredibly over the last two years. We’ve developed an awesome reputation in the community and have become the go-to program for COVID information and resources. Currently, we are working with a national production company called Laudable who captured stories of community members and leaders sharing their pandemic experiences on video. The Community Engagement team is a partner with the Fields Corner Crossroads Collaborative (FCCC) at the MissionSafe site in Dorchester. We attend weekly events that focus on youth, men’s health, community service, and empowerment. We will begin working with the Psychiatry Department at the Boston University Medical Campus to develop a series of community forums focusing on PTSD and trauma. It is exciting and extremely gratifying to have an array of wonderful partners, projects, and events.”
MA-CEAL now enters its third year of grant funding and aims to continue its partnership with CRN by attending events and engaging in community presentations. They would also like to host a community event showcasing the many different types of research and explaining why it is important, especially regarding communities of color.
“I am thrilled to take CEAL to the next level to make an even stronger impact in the neighborhoods of Boston,” says Hope. “My work energizes me and I feel a heartfelt connection to what I do. I look like the people I serve and have endured some of the mistreatment, racism, and disparities that challenge them daily. Educating and advocating for these communities is personal and I will continue to provide the best care and resources that I can provide.”
Dr. Linas concludes, “Ultimately, we envision a more inclusive medical and scientific establishment that serves the needs of all people and that includes all people in both the processes and the benefits of discovery. We are excited that in our third year of work, we are able to look beyond the COVID crisis to begin addressing disparities in critical health dimensions, like mental health, sexual health, and other chronic conditions. MA-CEAL was born from the BMC experience during COVID. We are thrilled that by working together, BMC, CRN, and MA-CEAL can be leaders improving the health and well-being of all Massachusetts residents.”