Arkansas group receives $1 million grant to study Delta health, economic outcomes

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,149 views 

A coalition of organizations in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi will use a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to promote improved and equitable health and economic outcomes in the Mississippi Delta regions of those states, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement announced Thursday (May 11).

ACHI is the recipient of the planning grant, entitled NSF Engines Development Award: Advancing Equitable Access to Food and Health Technologies in the Delta.

ACHI will lead the tri-state effort, partnering with the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, the Mississippi-based Delta Health Alliance, Mississippi-based HOPE (Hope Enterprise Corporation, Hope Credit Union, and Hope Policy Institute), the Louisiana Public Health Institute, and the Louisiana-based Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

“The Mississippi Delta region faces many longstanding challenges, including inadequate food availability, high rates of chronic disease, and limited health care access,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “This is a transformational investment in the region, and we hope this first joint effort of partners in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi will lead to solutions that will improve health and economic outcomes for these communities.”

The coalition intends to spend up to 18 months developing a plan for an initiative that will harness the region’s strengths to address its key disparities. ACHI will then apply for additional NSF funding to implement the initiative, which the coalition expects to focus on three areas:

a) Development and testing of new telehealth models and digital tools that can be embedded in the home and across rural clinical and pharmacy sites, taking advantage of modern advances in machine learning, artificial intelligence and data science. The initiative will also provide the resources and infrastructure to train and increase fluency in virtual care among health care professionals, community health workers and patients.

b) Development of more effective methods for production, distribution, and accessibility of fresh, healthy food, including the development of new business models that integrate food as medicine with existing and emerging health care delivery, and advancements in precision agriculture.

c) Design, development, and manufacture of over-the-counter or pharmacy-administered diagnostic materials and therapeutics, with a focus on innovations, advancements and infrastructure that improve health care for underserved populations.

The grant is part of NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines program.

“These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “These awardees are part of the fabric of NSF’s vision to create opportunities everywhere and enable innovation anywhere. They will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnerships. This will unleash ideas, talent, pathways and resources to create vibrant innovation ecosystems all across our nation.”

Key personnel involved in the effort are:

  • Dr. Joe Thompson, president and CEO of ACHI.
  • Danielle Taylor, executive director of ACHI.
  • Mellie Boagni Bridewell, president of the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership.
  • Dr. Karen Matthews, president and CEO of the Delta Health Alliance.
  • Charity Hallman, senior vice president of community and economic development for HOPE.
  • Shelina Davis, CEO of the Louisiana Public Health Institute.
  • Dr. De’Shoin A. York, vice chancellor of extension and outreach for the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

ACHI is a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that works to improve the health of all Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy, and collaborative program development.