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NIH grant to help migrant agricultural workers, families stay healthy

Russell McCulloh, MD

The University of Nebraska Medical Center, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Kearney are collaborating on a $3 million grant to help rural Nebraska families working in agriculture stay healthy.

The team will work through the state of Nebraska Migrant Education Program to help migrant families in central Nebraska living primarily in Adams, Hall and Buffalo counties.

Nebraska is one of four states to receive funding from a second installment of the Safe Return to School Diagnostic Testing Initiative, launched earlier this year as part of the National Institutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program.

The RADX-UP program, which will provide up to $15 million over two years, expands the number of community partnership grants aimed at increased availability of COVID-19 testing and school attendance for children from underserved communities.

The grant will focus on implementing an electronic, mobile health (mHealth) guided, at-home COVID-19 testing program for students 5-18 years old and their parents. It also will address challenges families may face due to the pandemic such as food insecurity or job loss.

Russell McCulloh, MD, UNMC associate professor and chief of the division of pediatric hospital medicine at UNMC and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, is principal investigator of the grant. Jana Broadhurst, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the UNMC Department of Pathology and Microbiology and director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit Clinical Laboratory at Nebraska Medicine, is co-principal investigator.

“Migrant families are a vital part of rural communities in Nebraska,” Dr. McCulloh said. “Migrant families often face more job, food and housing insecurity risks than their neighbors. Because they move to where the work is, relocation can be a barrier to children getting an education and health care. If parents miss work because of a sick child, they risk losing their jobs.

“Maximizing in-person schooling helps migrant children by providing the best learning environment as well as access to school-based meals, speech or occupational therapy and after school programs. If we can give them the power of our mHealth tools and improve linkages to community resources, we can help avoid the negative effects of COVID complications or spreading COVID and reduce some social stressors. The idea is to make communities more resilient and enable access to programs where they are,” Dr. McCulloh said.

Over the next two years, families will be recruited through the Nebraska Migrant Education Program. The goal is to enroll 800 students and caregivers to screen themselves for COVID symptoms in the home and, if needed, conduct home-based COVID-19 saliva test kits that would be mailed to UNMC. Families also can connect with community-based partners including a community navigator in the Children’s Physicians, Kearney office.

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is the only full-service, pediatric health care center in Nebraska, providing expertise in more than 50 pediatric specialty services to children across a five-state region and beyond. Children’s is home to Nebraska’s only Level IV regional Newborn Intensive Care Unit and the state’s only Level II Pediatric Trauma Center. A regional heart center, it also offers expertise in pediatric heart transplantation. Children’s is recognized as a 2021-22 Best Children’s Hospital by U.S. News & World Report in four pediatric specialties: Cardiology & Heart Surgery, Gastroenterology & GI Surgery, Pulmonology & Lung Surgery and Urology. Visit us online at ChildrensOmaha.org.

The National Institutes of Health, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

We are Nebraska Medicine and UNMC. Our mission is to lead the world in transforming lives to create a healthy future for all individuals and communities through premier educational programs, innovative research and extraordinary patient care.

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