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Christy Ledford, PhD [Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

MCG faculty named finalist for NIH Build UP Trust Challenge

Christy Ledford, PhD, professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, is one of two Augusta community members announced as finalists in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Build UP Trust Challenge.

Build UP Trust is a challenge competition launched to identify solutions that increase research participation and the adoption of medical care by building trust and improving engagement with historically underserved American communities.  

Britney Pooser, executive director of the Hub for Community Innovation, and Ledford will receive $45,000 as finalists for the program. The award recognizes their community project called Community Outreach through Athletics in Colleges and High Schools (COACHS). 

People outside a new building
The Hub for Community Innovation.

“This award recognizes how we’re linking all of these institutions together to work together for the community, because that’s what’s rare. AU, Wellstar, the school system and the Hub are all working together to improve the health of the youth of the community,” Ledford said.

The COACHS initiative connects athletic trainers within Richmond County schools to the education and health sectors. COACHS represents a joint effort between Augusta University, Wellstar MCG Health, the Richmond County Board of Education and the Hub for Community Innovation. High school athletic trainers build personal relationships with students, provide care and act as a bridge to the health care system for students who may feel uncomfortable, mistrust the health system or lack insurance coverage.

“All of our work is driven by community. We started by asking our neighbors in Laney Walker, Harrisburg, Sand Hills and downtown how we can serve them and advance the health and wellbeing of Augusta. Again and again, we heard that Augusta’s youth needed support and that mental health is a priority,” Ledford said.

“COACHS is a culmination of a passion project between myself and Christy,” said Pooser. “We want to make sure that community voices are being heard and integrated in what we are doing.”  

NIH developed the Build UP Trust Challenge to develop trust with historically underserved populations, such as Black and African American and Hispanic Americans. According to the Build UP Trust website, the absence of trust and the presence of mistrust among members of minority health populations and populations with health disparities contribute to people’s reluctance to engage with biomedical research and utilize health care technologies. It also points to multiple studies that link strong community-level engagement and trust to the successful adoption and implementation of effective interventions.

Pooser and Ledford built the COACHS program in collaboration with Augusta community members as part of the Co-Researcher Activation Network (CRANE). CRANE is a community engagement network as part of HamesNet, the practice-based research network that links family medicine clinics throughout Georgia to advance the health of Georgians and its communities. In Augusta, CRANE gathers community members to build sustaining relationships between the community and researchers. Over the past three years, Augusta groups identified Black and minority youth as populations who need additional help in mental and physical health care access.  

“All of our work is driven by community. We started by asking our neighbors in Laney Walker, Harrisburg, Sand Hills and downtown how we can serve them and advance the health and well-being of Augusta.”

Christy Ledford, PhD, professor and vice chair of research in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at MCG

Initially envisioned by Monte Hunter, MD, chair of the MCG Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, the Outreach Athletic Trainer Program sought to place athletic trainers in schools to develop relationships with student-athletes. Through the program’s evolution, it developed a more holistic approach to athlete care identifying the physical, mental and behavioral needs of students. Chris Ledford, MD, director of MCG’s Sports Medicine Fellowship and family medicine and sports medicine physician, is the current medical director for the program.

With the NIH prize, the program will expand COACHS to enable athletic trainers to identify the needs of the students and refer them to the Hub for Community Innovation, where they can receive health services through Harrisburg Family Health Care, mentorship at the Boys and Girls Club, nutritional services at Augusta Locally Grown, educational support at AU’s Dr. Paulette P. Harris Literacy Center and workforce and life skill training with RISE Augusta.

“The athletic trainers are building relationships in the schools, and it’s not just with athletes. It’s with the students who take PE, it’s with the students in the band,” Christy Ledford, PhD, said. “The athletic trainers are trusted others for all of the students in the school, not just the football team.”

Two men stand with a collegiate sports mascot. The mascot is a jaguar or large cat wearing a t-shirt. One of the men is wearing a construction hardhat and safety vest.
Chris Ledford, MD, AU’s mascot Augustus
and Marquise Sims, an athletic trainer
with the COACHS program.

Pooser said the prize will be invested into the program to continue to develop equitable access to care, amplify the programming, and ensure COACHS continues to serve and support the youth.  

The COACHS team also includes four clinicians from MCG/AU: Chris Ledford, MD; behavioralist Jessica Britt-Thomas, PhD; internal medicine physician Vanessa Spearman-McCarthy, MD; and family physician Ebony Whisenant, MD. Lillie Williamson, PhD, an expert in mistrust and distrust within Black communities, also joins the team.  

As finalists in the Build UP Trust competition, Pooser and Ledford’s team will compete for one of up to four prizes of up to $200,000 in Phase 2 by demonstrating how the COACHS initiative builds trust in Augusta.

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Written by
Jennifer Hilliard Scott

Jennifer Hilliard Scott is Director of Communications at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-721-8604 or jscott1@augusta.edu.

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Woman smiling Written by Jennifer Hilliard Scott

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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