RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Rural Health, in partnership with East Carolina University and North Carolina State University, has been awarded a highly competitive Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society award from the National Institutes of Health for the proposed Agricultural Workers Digital Equity Initiative.
The five-year, nearly $6 million award strives to advance health equity by promoting digital inclusion for agricultural workers and their families in North Carolina.
More than 90,000 farmworkers and their family members are estimated to live in North Carolina, and the $100-billion-a-year agriculture industry in the state is dependent on a healthy workforce. The goal of the Agricultural Workers Digital Equity Initiative is to increase agricultural workers’ access to digital health services and emergency communication by improving access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.
“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,” said NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley. “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.”
Within the NCDHHS Office of Rural Health, the Farmworker Health Program will administer the NIH award. Farmworker Health Program Manager Elizabeth Freeman Lambar will lead the research team, which includes NC State and ECU. The project will engage agricultural workers across the state, along with the existing NC Agriculture Digital Alliance and a planned Health Equity Research Assembly, to gather information that will guide the project.
“Agricultural workers experience the rurality of the digital divide while distinctively working in one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations,” said Freeman Lambar. “The Agricultural Workers Digital Equity Initiative is unique in that it will be community-led, exploring and implementing interventions aimed at increasing digital equity and ultimately enhancing telehealth models in rural areas where they live to reduce some of the barriers to health care.”
The project team will work with the NC Farmworker Health Program’s service delivery sites, community partners and other health entities that serve agricultural workers and their families.
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.
“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 opportunity enables access to critical healthcare resources through telehealth, propelling us toward a safer and healthier future for North Carolina agriculture.”
“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 NC and beyond. We are thrilled for the team to begin this important work.”
The NCDHHS Office of Rural Health’s mission is to support equitable access to health in rural and underserved communities. Learn more at www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/orh. More information on additional internet connectivity programs can also be found at the following:
- NC Department of Information Technology Digital Equity Collaborative
- FCC Affordable Connectivity Program
Research reported in this release was supported by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund, under award number OT2OD035636. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.