Posted: December 13, 2021
Photo caption: Pictured above left to right are Virginia Cruz, Guipsy Lopez-Ramirez, Dr. Gia Mudd –Martin, Rosa Martin, Jackie Arakaki, Herlinda Martinez
When Gia Mudd-Martin, PhD, MPH, RN, first graduated with her nursing degree, she spent several years in South America and saw firsthand the valuable role that community health workers have in improving health. In poor areas with limited resources, these laypeople were trained to reach out and educate community members on certain aspects of health.
The experience convinced her to bring the concept home and earn a PhD so she could demonstrate its effectiveness and initiate community health worker programs in the United States. As an associate professor at the UK College of Nursing, Dr. Mudd-Martin has teamed up with stakeholders in central and eastern Kentucky Latinx communities to address prevalent health issues, including COVID-19 and the high rates of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Members of the Latinx community in Lexington, Kentucky first reached out to Dr. Mudd-Martin for her expertise in reducing these prevalent diseases. She began researching their root causes and introducing interventions to support healthy lifestyles.
“For example, if someone doesn’t have a good pair of tennis shoes, we will talk to them about affordable shoe options,” she says. “We’ll talk about healthy activities that they can incorporate into their lives, such as adding in a morning walk to their daily routine. It’s about providing realistic options, solutions and resources.
“Our interventions have proven successful not only because of what information we are offering but also how the information is being delivered— through trusted members within the community,” says Dr. Mudd-Martin.
This type of community-based research is effective because it is not someone from academia saying, ‘let’s go into the community and test this intervention’; this was developed with and for the community. And it will stay with these communities long after we finish the study itself.”
Though COVID-19 temporarily slowed this research, it also presented new opportunities to educate, build trust and provide health-related resources in the Latinx community.
Dr. Mudd-Martin and her team supported community health worker outreach efforts during the pandemic through a partnership with the Foundation for Latin American and Latinx Culture and Arts (FLACA). Those efforts included educating community members about COVID-19 and how to access available resources such as food, face masks and financial support.
The team also collaborated with Rosa Martin, project director of the Corazon de la Familia study and former president of FLACA, to establish the Latinx COVID-Response Coalition.
The coalition consists of several impactful community stakeholders, including the local health department and Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton’s office, and was instrumental in educating the community about the COVID-19 vaccine and facilitating vaccine access.
“Our work through the coalition has helped us establish trust in the community, which is necessary for authentic community engagement down the road,” said Dr. Mudd-Martin. She says the coalition will continue to focus on increasing the community’s access to health care and health education.
“Especially with new emerging COVID-19 variants, we know that vaccinating the majority of the Latinx community will remain our most urgent priority as we continue to help improve and protect the community’s overall health and wellness needs though local partnerships and outreach efforts.”