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Member Spotlight: Central Massachusetts AHEC Funded Project

Posted by on April 15th, 2024 Posted in: Funded Project, Member Spotlight
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Today’s blog post was guest written by Harvard Thompson, Director of Health Integration and Strategy at Center for Health Impact.

Tell us about your organization.

The Central Massachusetts Area Health Education Center (CMAHEC) DBA Center for Health Impact (CHI) is a woman-owned, 501c3 non-profit organization and member of the MassAHEC Network at UMASS Chan Medical School. CHI engages in research and academic-governmental partnerships with the mission to create health equity through partnership and innovation by enhancing access to quality healthcare and education, eliminating health disparities, addressing structural racism, conducting community-based participatory research, and promoting workforce development.

CHI Services

  • Interpretation: CHI’s Language Link Services promotes linguistic equity and facilitates effective communication between healthcare, educational, public, and other service providers and community members by providing expert interpretation in more than 20 languages.
  • Translation: CHI’s skilled translation team ensures culturally and contextually accurate translations of health promotion materials, manuals, and documents for clients including hospitals, HMO’s, public agencies, academia, legal practices, and community-based agencies.
  • Health Care Workforce Training: CHI prepares participants to meet the health needs of diverse and vulnerable populations through the delivery of customized and nationally recognized training courses with a specialization on Community Health Worker (CHW) workforce development in Massachusetts and throughout the U.S.
  • Technical Assistance: CHI partners with healthcare systems, educational institutions, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), public and private clients on program and curriculum design, community-based participatory research, workforce planning, policy development, and community health assessments.

You recently received an NNLM R7 grant. Tell us about your project.

Why did you choose this approach and audience?

The project was first conceptualized in conversations with members of the LGBTQIA+ community who shared their challenges with rising barriers and decreased access to equitable and culturally responsive healthcare.

In recent years, a flurry of restrictive policies, laws and practices have emerged throughout the U.S. that limit access to gender affirming healthcare services. Moreover, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community do not feel that there are sufficient healthcare professionals who are adequately trained to meet their healthcare needs. The LGBTQIA+ community has become concerned that without intentional efforts to train and sensitize healthcare professionals to the diverse healthcare needs of LGBTQIA+ populations, these obstacles will continue to grow.

It was this input that motivated our agency to develop comprehensive health education trainings with the aim of equipping healthcare professionals with the resources, skills, knowledge and awareness to provide culturally responsive care to LGBTQIA+ populations in their service areas.

How did you go about planning and implementing the project?

Our priority was partnering with members of the LGBTQIA+ community who had first-hand experiences of navigating the healthcare system and experiencing stressors and/or barriers to care.

The project was co-developed with two self-identifying transgender women of color who generously shared their lived experiences during both the planning and implementation phases. Together we intentionally highlighted the intersectionalities of sexual orientation, gender identity, and race.  With their guidance and leadership, we mapped out learning objectives and key content for our health education training curricula.

We then liaised with more members of the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure the topics aligned with the needs they identified in their communities. It was also important that we partnered with allies from different states to ensure a wider audience; these included individuals from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont.

How have you used your community partners to support this project?

We collaborated extensively with longstanding and new community partners, including non-profit health education organizations and federally qualified community health centers.

We sought out agencies with histories of providing equitable healthcare experiences for all members of the populations they serve, particularly LGBTQIA+ populations. We also prioritized partnering with agencies in the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) network, which are Federally funded health education centers “committed to expanding the health care workforce while maximizing diversity and facilitating distribution, especially in rural and underserved communities.” (National AHEC Organization, 2024).

Finally, we engaged partners who served communities where LGBTQIA+ populations were under-resourced and at high risk of experiencing adverse health outcomes. Once our community partners were identified, we conducted interviews with their healthcare professionals, clients, and community members regarding the highest needs, barriers to care, and data trends for the LGBTQIA+ populations in their areas. When the qualitative and quantitative data were collected, we developed the health education training curricula in collaboration with members of the LGBTQIA+ community to ensure it was culturally responsive.

What are the next steps for the project?

This project was the first of many other efforts to rally support for LGBTQIA+ communities. In a world that is increasingly polarized towards LGBTQIA+ populations, where policies and laws in violation of basic human rights, including restricting access to equitable healthcare services are becoming increasingly commonplace, it is essential for these conversations to persist. The Center for Health Impact embraces social justice as a key pillar of our ethos. We aim to bridge and strengthen networks of support for individuals most negatively impacted by social determinants of health and discrimination, including the LGBTQIA+ community. Our strength base is providing equitable access to high quality services, especially health education and workforce development training experiences that foster culturally responsive healthcare professionals. Our next steps thus include more of these conversations, with intention, and including as many people as we can reach.

If another organization wanted to do something similar, what would they need to know?

Above all, meaningfully involving members of the LGBTQIA+ community in planning, facilitation/training delivery, and evaluation is essential to project success. Their lived and shared experiences, especially stories of challenges navigating healthcare systems, not only informs effective content development, but also assures authenticity and humanity during training sessions. That, along with best practices and skills practice is essential in preparing and motivating health care professionals to provide culturally responsive care for LGBTQIA+ populations.

In addition, it is critical to place a special emphasis on creating a safe and brave space where facilitators and participants alike can share their experiences. This requires intentional planning and facilitation around defining a respectful environment, language and descriptions to be used or not used, and group agreements about interactions and behavior. Ensuring participants’ comfort and safety in the classroom yields a robust, multi-directional learning experience. When training participants feel safe, comfortable and interested, they are more inclined to engage in a shared learning experience where both participants and facilitators contribute actively and demonstrate mutuality. In our training sessions, we were pleased to observe participants who self-reported limited knowledge on the topic and/or having heard misinformation on the topic, asking questions to better understand – and expressing gratitude for not being judged in the process.

One moving example of this came from a participant who shared how the training experience helped her better understand and relate to her daughter’s experiences as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community: “I really enjoyed listening to the trainer’s personal stories/experiences. It really helped me get a better grasp of what life is like coming from my daughter’s perspective and understanding some of her struggles better. I really enjoyed our small group discussions and how everyone was so respectful of one another. It was an extremely safe place to share and be heard. I truly appreciated everyone’s input and opinions.”

How did NLM or NNLM help with this project? What resources from NLM or NNLM did you use?

NNLM and its excellent administrative staff provided the Center for Health Impact with guidance, direction, and support throughout the project’s inception, implementation, and evaluation. Importantly, they assisted us with navigating the extensive library of content and resources utilized for content development; being able to reference publications on transgender health, NNLM regional blogs for LGBTQIA+ health topics, and especially the NNLM Member Spotlights on LGBTQIA+ topics, was immensely helpful for planning and referencing purposes.

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NNLM Region 7
University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
(508) 856-5985

This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.

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