RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health announced it will receive a Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society award from the National Institutes of Health for the office’s proposed Agricultural Workers Digital Equity Initiative.
The award is almost $6 million over a five-year period. The Farmworker Health Program, housed under NCDHHS’ Office of Rural Health, will administer the award.
“This investment from the National Institutes of Health will transform the health and well-being of our state’s agricultural workers who ensure the nation’s food security,” NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley said in a statement. “This collaborative effort will help close the health care coverage gap by increasing access to care when and where workers and their families need it.”
The Initiative’s main goal seeks to increase access to digital health services and emergency communication for agricultural workers in the state by improving access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.
NCDHHS told North State Journal that a critical part of the initiative’s mission will be the first phase of the project, which entails measuring internet access and assessing telehealth models available to agricultural workers.
NCDHHS will be working in partnership with East Carolina University (ECU) and North Carolina State University on the initiative. The schools will be involved in a “statewide time-venue sampling survey” of farmworker housing units during 2023. The survey is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services which hopes to obtain the needed data during the initial phases of the initiative as well as being repeated at later dates.
“Researchers with ECU’s College of Health and Human Performance and the Laupus Health Sciences Library will work with NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to propose strategies to promote digital inclusion and test them based on input from agricultural workers and community partners,” per NCDHHS’ press release.
“Digital equity in North Carolina’s farming communities aligns with NC State University’s commitment to farmworker health and safety,” said Rich Bonanno, Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement at NC State. “The Agricultural Workers’ Digital Equity Initiative will enhance partnerships aimed at equipping North Carolina’s farming community with digital resources and skills, bolstering the safety toolkit for both agricultural workers and farmers.”
“This project is an example of ECU’s commitment to be a future focused, innovation driven campus that engages with communities to bring technical expertise and new ideas to bear on the critical issues we face,” said Sharon Paynter, Acting Chief Research and Engagement Officer at ECU. “Through this initiative, ECU faculty, staff, and students will deliver on the university’s promise to contribute to improving rural health and well-being of eastern N.C. and beyond.”
Over 90,000 farmworkers and their family members live in North Carolina. Agriculture in the state is roughly a $100-billion-a-year industry.