Boldly Opening Doors to Better Chances and Improved Healthcare

A BOLD grant was awarded to a program by MedsPLUS in collaboration with the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy and Jenkins Public Health Consulting.

By Miriam Calleja


The Building Opportunities for Lasting Development (BOLD) grant awarded by The City of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity (IEO) accepts proposals from organizations, businesses, and public or private entities to provide programs or services to promote economic development to Birmingham residents. IEO aims to foster an ecosystem that thrives on innovation and opportunity. They provide resources to nurture talent, establish infrastructure to support the growth of women, minorities, and disadvantaged businesses, and focus on developing small businesses. Now in its sixth year, the BOLD funding program aims to create partnerships with community organizations that share IEO’s vision of making Birmingham a model of an inclusive and resilient economy.

BOLD’s objectives include overcoming barriers in development and prioritizing certain geographic areas that are deemed disadvantaged and that may often be overlooked. Working with data-driven and innovative approaches, they aim to provide funds for sustainable development.

One of the grants this year was awarded to MedsPLUS Consulting, an independent pharmacy and healthcare consulting firm that has a history of serving minority communities in Birmingham, particularly those who feel they have been mistreated and marginalized by mainstream healthcare and government systems.

The BOLD grant will provide finances for a two-pronged approach.

Three individuals will be trained to become community health workers, and a diabetes education service will be set up for sixty Birmingham residents. The project aims to overcome various barriers to employment opportunities by training workers to become pharmacy technicians who specialize in diabetes management while also setting them up for employment, which includes instruction such as resume writing and LinkedIn profile setup. It also targets the education of diabetes patients themselves.

The collaborators in this project are Dr. Dashauna Ballard, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) who did her Ph.D. in Health Education and Health Promotion, MedsPLUS Consulting, and Jenkins Public Health Consulting (JPHC).

Dr. Dashauna met Dr. Pauline Long and Dr. Jennifer Campbell from MedsPLUS Consulting by chance over a year and a half ago at a Birmingham city meeting. Since then, they’ve collaborated and applied for a few grants together. They were able to prepare two scientific presentations when Dr. Pauline and Dr. Jennifer had the idea of a pilot program to offer a culturally-tailored diabetes self-management, education, and support services to the public. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is a significant problem in Alabama, including Birmingham. Around 15% of Alabamians have diabetes, and less than 7% of people with diabetes have any formal diabetes education.

Overcoming Barriers

Dr. Dashauna set out to investigate the barriers that patients with diabetes face when taking care of their disease. She was able to boil it down to three main barriers. Even though diabetes education is available at health centers, hospitals, and doctors’ offices, many patients are not taking advantage of what is available. For many patients, the biggest hurdle was physically getting to the appointments, especially if they lived in the suburbs or couldn’t get into the city to be present for their appointments. Parking and transportation were the second type of issue they faced. Thirdly, there was a lack of knowledge on the accessibility of diabetes education. It became clear that diabetes education needed to be available closer to home. And so, for example, the service could be accessed from libraries within the community if these were found to be active sites in the chosen neighborhoods.

This is when their third collaborator, Jenkins Public Health Consulting, will come in. Brittaney Jenkins, CEO at JPHC, is a Certified Health Education Specialist and Public Health Practitioner who will engage and communicate with the specific community. This is a crucial step in detecting where help is needed most. They will assist in recruiting individuals for the health worker program and engage the community to recruit participants for the diabetes education sessions.

To conduct this pilot study, MedsPLUS culturally tailored a standardized program by the Association of Diabetes Care Education Specialists (ADCES). As part of the norms for the project, Drs. Jennifer, Pauline, and Dashauna agreed to have participants address them by their first name as a means of building rapport and trust in the communities for which they will be working. Dr. Dashauna and the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy then translated their pilot program work into research presented at scientific conferences. Dr. Dashauna completed the background research and processed the literature review so that the information obtained through the program could be published.

The project aims to get several research publications that will establish evidence-based benefits from their pilot program and then scale it up to help more people across the state of Alabama. The background research found evidence to justify the project’s structure and methodology. When the program launches this January 2024, Dr. Dashauna will oversee the data management, the quality of data collected, and how that data is reported. Her role is to ensure success, i.e., that the project achieves what it sets out to do so that more patients with diabetes can be educated and empowered, and more health workers can be set up to work in the field.

Better Opportunities

The three community health workers will be chosen from the Birmingham area. They will benefit from a twelve-month apprenticeship to get health worker training and become licensed pharmacy technicians by the end of the program. MedsPLUS will then either employ the workers or set them up for meaningful employment elsewhere in the same field. While no healthcare background will be required since MedsPLUS will be conducting the training, the individuals will be chosen on criteria that assess their soft skills, an essential and sometimes overlooked aspect of healthcare.

“This type of apprenticeship will allow them to see the community health worker side and the pharmacy technician side and to get professional development so that they can go on to do what they would like to do,” said Dr. Pauline, referring to the case study they made for their grant, of a young recently-graduated high schooler from one of these geographical areas, who is not sure what to do next in career terms.

The training will be conducted by Connection Health, a non-profit organization that recruits, trains, and deploys community health workers. When the individuals have completed 120 hours of training and become entry-level health workers, they will start their diabetes training through the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES). These two phases will prepare them to go into communities and assist pharmacists or diabetes educators with facilitating their courses. In the fourth quarter of 2024, they will undergo professional development training to get their pharmacy technician license.

A Promising Future

This project is an excellent example of how community engagement can help change different populations’ health prospects. By coming together, the Lister Hill Center for Health Policy at UAB, MedsPLUS Consulting, and Jenkins Public Health Consulting have employed their specific skills to improve countless people’s lives through skilled outreach. This robust program is a promising start that will elevate the quality of life of many. And this is just the beginning. Once the research shows improvement, the three players can scale their program to help more individuals across Birmingham obtain health worker training and control their diabetes for improved health.