MaineHealth has been awarded nearly $1 million to study ways to make regular COVID-19 testing accessible and to increase testing usage among Maine’s immigrant, low-income and homeless populations.

The network announced Monday that it is the recipient of a $940,140 grant from the National Institutes of Health and will be launching a study immediately. The study will be led by Dr. Kathleen Fairfield of Maine Medical Center and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, and Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, the institute’s vice president of research.

The research will involve working with community partners to reduce barriers to testing and will use a variety of messaging strategies to encourage at-risk populations to get tested regularly.

“We know that we need to use a variety of strategies to contain this pandemic, including masking and equitable access to testing and vaccination,” Fairfield said in a MaineHealth news release. “This study is about how we make COVID-19 testing accessible and acceptable to populations who are at higher risk of contracting COVID, and build trust with the medical community.”

As part of the study, the institute will work with organizations including Preble Street and Greater Portland Health to increase access to walk-up COVID-19 testing sites in Portland.

“Preble Street is thrilled to partner with MaineHealth on this important effort,” Mark Swann, Preble Street’s executive director, said in the release. “COVID has created yet another fear and complication in the lives of our unhoused neighbors. As a community, we have a health equity and public health imperative to focus COVID-19 resources on marginalized groups, including people experiencing homelessness.


“By offering low-barrier, easily accessible testing services, this grant will not only improve individual safety but will also strengthen the health infrastructure of the shelter system and our community.”

The institute also will be collaborating with the nonprofit ProsperityME to develop insights into the cultural, behavioral, economic and other factors impacting people’s decision-making about testing. Staff with the city of Portland’s public health division will participate in advisory committees to aid the research.

The research team will follow 150 people from greater Portland’s immigrant, low-income and homeless populations for one year to see if their attitudes toward regular COVID-19 testing change and whether the interventions result in increased testing. Testing sites are expected to open by the end of 2021. MaineHealth may receive additional funding next year contingent on one-year progress.

“This grant doesn’t just fund important COVID-19 research at MaineHealth,” Jacobs said. “It provides additional financial resources to our partner organizations so they can continue their essential work of improving health equity and community engagement with the health care system.”

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