This is Part 1 of a 2-Part Series highlighting the partnership between Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church where the Rev. Franklin Lance is Senior Pastor and the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s PATIENTS Program headed by Dr. C. Daniel Mullins and the two entities’ involvement in the COMMIT project.

The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s PATIENTS Program trains patients, stakeholders, and researchers to become co-developers of Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR). The innovative program is funded through a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), that seeks to eliminate inequities faced by underserved populations. Housed in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, The PATIENTS Program leverages innovative partnerships with patient communities and health care systems to ensure that patients, health care providers, and other partners are actively engaged in research.

Community partners include Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church. The longstanding partnership between the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church spans more than 10 years. Another innovative approach to help improve the wellbeing of people and communities has been born out of the longstanding partnership – COMMIT (COmmunity Mistrust and Measures of Institutional Trustworthiness).

The COMMIT project was the brainchild of the Rev. Franklin Lance, Senior Pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church (MLBC), and was made possible through a $1.2 million grant award from the NIH-National Institute on Minority Health & Health Disparity.

The project seeks to codesign a sustainable model for trustworthy Community Engaged Research (CEnR) partnerships to address Social, Ethical, Behavioral Indications (SEBI) of COVID-19 testing. The project also created a Memorandum of Commitment (MOC) template for CEnR partnerships for COVID-19 testing to advance trust through trustworthiness, transparency, and respect.

C. Daniel Mullins, PhD,  a professor in the Department of Practice, Sciences, and Health Outcomes Research (P-SHOR) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy is the executive director of The PATIENTS Program.

“What I really like about the COMMIT project is that the origins of it really did come from Pastor Lance who’s the Senior Pastor of Mount Lebanon,” said Dr. Mullins. “A lot of this was sitting down and talking with Pastor Lance about the important issues and putting it down on paper.”

Pastor Donald Wright of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church works closely with University of School of Maryland on the COMMIT project. In addition to the Memorandum of Commitment, the project also created the opportunity for MLBC to work with retail pharmacy chain CVS Health for a pharmacy technician training program that will be run out of the church’s basement.

“The PATIENTS program under my leadership has been working with Mount Lebanon Baptist Church for more than a decade,” said Dr. Mullins who is also Director of the Community & Collaboration Core for the UMB Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. “While that’s a very strong relationship, it fundamentally was hinging on two key individuals…Pastor Lance and myself. We felt it had to be about institutional partnerships and not about two leaders agreeing on things. It had to be systemic across both institutions. The best way to do that was to have a transparent process in which we could bring together members of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, the surrounding community, and researchers with the PATIENTS program and researchers in the University of Maryland Baltimore.”

He added, “We had to bring together everyone and say, ‘We have this successful partnership, but what does that really mean? What is our commitment to the patients who are going to the University of Maryland Baltimore and what is our commitment to the church? What is the commitment from the church and to the patients that come in to UMB? What would it look like if we had that relationship down on paper when COVID-19 started? Could we have done a better job getting people educated about COVID and COVID testing? If you look at where we are, we could have done a better job with communicating not just about the condition and testing, but about the treatments and vaccines that emerged and information about things like wearing a mask and the spread of the disease.”

The overall goals of the COMMIT project are to expand research to understand and address the social, ethical, and behavioral implications (SEBI) of COVID-19 testing interventions among underserved and vulnerable populations​; move beyond descriptive health disparities research to focus on developing interventions and other actionable solutions in collaboration with community partners and stakeholders​; and address multiple levels of influence (e.g., individual, interpersonal, institutional, community, and policy levels) and lead to actionable solutions to address COVID-19 disparities.

“We wanted to use our long-term partnership with Mount Lebanon Baptist Church to better understand how we could be better prepared for pandemics like the COVID 19 pandemic,” said Dr. Mullins. “It’s about using the partnership between the PATIENTS program in Mount Lebanon as a successful model. If we had more successful models like this across the U.S., we would have done a better job with COVID-19. We’ve revealed that we could have been in a better position to help people sift through misinformation so that they know the truth.”

Part 2: Coming Next Week: Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church talks about the COMMIT project.

Ursula V. Battle
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