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CDC grant boosts effort to reduce New Haven health disparities

February 28, 2024
by Colin Poitras

A collaborative effort to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities in New Haven in which the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) is a leading partner has received a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that will allow it to continue for another five years.

The funding comes from the CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program, which seeks to reduce chronic disease inequities among Black and Latino residents.

The grant is the second consecutive 5-year REACH award received by the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), co-housed at YSPH and Southern Connecticut State University. Founded in 2007, CARE works closely with its New Haven community partners to implement community-driven interventions to improve health through research, assessment, and community and systems-level changes.

“Our accomplishments are really due to the partnerships we have throughout New Haven, across institutions, as well as with community residents here in New Haven,” said Kathleen O’Connor Duffany, director of research and evaluation at CARE and an assistant professor of public health (social and behavioral sciences) at YSPH. “Our work is informed by and with community residents…They are part of our team.”

Our work is informed by and with community residents…They are part of our team.

Kathleen O’Connor Duffany, CARE director of research and evaluation

During a Feb. 23 press conference announcing the grant, O’Connor Duffany highlighted some of the impactful initiatives that were made possible with REACH funding over the past five years:

  • The Greater New Haven Coordinated Food Assistance Network launched more than 50 community-driven actions that helped improve access to healthy foods while addressing equity and justice.
  • The Supporting Wellness at Pantries (SWAP) program, which aims to increase access to healthier food choices in pantries, expanded to 10 pantries benefitting over 25,000 clients each year.
  • CARE and New Haven Healthy Start established the New Haven Breastfeeding Task Force, uniting more than 60 advocates, including Black and Latino parents. A citywide breastfeeding awareness campaign engaged 79 local businesses with six earning recognition as Breastfeeding Friendly Worksites. In an effort to address racial inequities in breastfeeding in health care, the task force helped train more than 260 health care providers (e.g., doctors, nurses) and other health workers across health care facilities and academic institutions.
  • In partnership with New Haven city leaders, CARE supported the development of a “Safe Routes for All” plan, a blueprint to improve New Haven’s walking, riding, biking, and transit infrastructure in the coming years. Through outreach, public messaging, online surveys, and neighborhood assessments, CARE worked with residents from low-income and Black and Brown communities so that they had a say in local policy development.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker called CARE’s work in addressing health inequities “inspiring” and said the awarding of the $3.4 million REACH grant was a “huge, huge accomplishment.”

He praised CARE for its investment in and support of New Haven residents.

“You focus on the roots of the problem and a long-term solution for us ensuring that New Haven residents that have historically not had the support that they need can get care,” Elicker said. “You also create communities where people can thrive….I can’t underscore how grateful I am for everything you do.”

CARE Director Alycia Santilli of Southern Connecticut State University’s College of Health and Human Services said health inequities are deeply tied to social and economic inequities. She noted that more than 30% of New Haven households are food insecure and that Black and Latino residents are much more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than their white counterparts.

She said there are a great many people in community-level organizations, New Haven government, and nonprofit organizations working to address health inequities in the city. CARE’s focus on supporting and sustaining these community-driven initiatives played a vital role in obtaining renewed CDC funding, she said.

“We’re really grateful to the many residents, community partners, and staff who made this work possible,” Santilli said. “We look forward to continuing our fight for health justice alongside all of you over the next five years.”

Several New Haven residents who are working with CARE praised the program. One of them was Dionne Lowndes, a registered nurse who is the maternal and child health manager at ACES Early Head Start in Middletown, Connecticut. A certified breastfeeding educator, she is also a member of New Haven’s Breastfeeding Task Force working to raise awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding. Those benefits aren’t limited to the newborn child. Breastfeeding, she said, can also reduce a mother’s risk for high blood pressure and cancer.

“This work is really, really important to me,” Lowndes said. “Parents, families, and communities can really reap the benefits of breastfeeding. That's why it is important for us to do this work with the task force, with our families and our neighbors, and with education institutions.”

Susan Harris, a member of Witnesses to Hunger, the New Haven Coordinated Food Assistance Network (CFAN), and CARE’s REACH Grant Steering Committee, said the new CDC grant will help food-insecure families in New Haven.

Harris recently organized a ‘school break grocery distribution’ to assist families during school vacations when their children don’t have access to in-school meals. She said the program distributed 500 bags of groceries during a school break last December.

“Hopefully, during the next school break in April, we will be able to do better,” Harris said. “With this next five years of funding, CFAN is committed to continuing to identify solutions to food insecurity. This includes identifying policies and systems that can help pantries get more healthy food to families in New Haven because food is a right, not a privilege.”

Submitted by Colin Poitras on February 28, 2024