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September 20, 2021

$940K federal grant will fund MaineHealth research into COVID testing

File Photo / William Hall Maine Medical Center Research Institute, an arm of MaineHealth's 637-bed hospital in Portland, will lead a study of how to expand COVID testing for the state's underserved populations.

A $940,000 grant announced Monday will fund research by MaineHealth into ways of getting more Mainers tested for COVID-19.

The grant, awarded by the National Institutes of Health and funded by the American Rescue Plan, will go toward a study targeting Maine immigrant, low-income and homeless populations, according to a news release.

Maine Medical Center Research Institute, the research arm of the MaineHealth system’s flagship hospital in Portland, will work with organizations including Preble Street and Greater Portland Health to increase the use of walk-up test sites in the city.

The team will follow 150 study participants to determine how to reduce barriers to testing and how to encourage people from underserved communities to get tested. The study will begin immediately, and testing sites are expected to open by the end of the year, the news release said.

The project will be led by Dr. Kathleen Fairfield, of Maine Medical Center and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, and the institute’s vice president of research, Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs.

“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. “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.”

Preble Street Executive Director Mark Swann said, “Preble Street is thrilled to partner with MaineHealth on this important effort. COVID has created yet another fear and complication in the lives of our unhoused neighbors … 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.”

In addition to partnering with Preble Street and Greater Portland Health, MMCRI will work with 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.

“This grant doesn’t just fund important COVID-19 research at MaineHealth,” said Jacobs. “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.”

In a separate news release, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, commented: “As the Delta variant continues to spread across Maine and our state approaches new peaks in daily cases, it is clear that this pandemic is not done with us yet. This grant will help confront the growing challenge and expand testing for our state’s low-income, immigrant, and homeless communities who have been hit disproportionally hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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