UA Expands Effort Responding to Rural Health Inequities

A group photo of about 30 people in blue shirts pose in front of the entrance to a brick building.
Members of the Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative including representatives from communities and UA staff gathered for a retreat in June.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A project led by The University of Alabama to equip communities in the state to be more resilient to health disparities is expanding its reach.

The Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative is adding five communities after a 1-year, $3.7 million extension of the original grant. The support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health means the initiative will work with 20 communities in the state over three years with a total of $7.8 million.

Led by the UA Center for Economic Development, ENI aims to address issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic in communities while helping build capacity to meet future challenges to health and quality of life. The communities served through the project include racial and ethnic minorities and rural communities that experienced COVID-19 health disparities among high-risk and underserved populations.

“The Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative has already made significant strides in addressing health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 in participating communities,” said Dr. Arturo Menefee, the project leader and interim executive director at the center. “This extension will allow us to equip more Alabama communities to leverage their assets to improve health equity and build capacity for a healthier future.”

Major outcomes for each community include developing a health equity plan, building a healing zone and establishing an advisory group and youth council to implement the initiative.

During the pandemic, the excess deaths among racial and ethnic minorities were greater than the excess deaths among whites, according to federal data. This not only came from deaths directly caused by COVID-19, but also by other results of the pandemic on society such as financial suffering, lack of educational assistance, delayed treatment for other health issues and limited access to mental health services.

Each community participates in capacity building workshops surrounding topics like health disparities and community engagement. The teams devise a plan to address COVID-19 as well as focus on improving health outcomes in the neighborhood. This project aims to create a network of informed and active neighbors who can advocate and help their communities better deal with health issues.

A map of Alabama with communities in the program pinned with names.
The 20 communities in the Equitable Neighborhood Initiative are spread across the state.

The 15 communities included in the initial grant have developed health resource directories that help residents access existing health resources and hosted mental health first aid workshops to address a pressing issue impacting youth and adults. Most of the communities have hosted health fairs, clinics or workshops around health concerns tailored specifically to their town’s greatest health needs and created unique opportunities for improving health by doing things like starting walking groups.

The new communities in the initiative are Fayette, Guin, Sulligent and Haleyville in northwest Alabama along with Prichard in Mobile County. They join Bayou La Batre, Blountsville, Camp Hill, Coden, Collinsville, Crossville, Dadeville, Hobson City, Goodwater, Kilpatrick, LaFayette, Ma-Chis Lower Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama, Midway, MOWA Choctaw Indians and Pittsview.

The Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative is supported by funds made available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, under 1 NH75OT000104-01-00. Disclaimer: The content of the Equitable Neighborhoods Initiative are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of or endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.


Adam Jones, UA Strategic Communications, 205-348-4328,;


Erin Hackenmueller, UA Center for Economic Development,