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Mental Health for Salt Lake

University of Utah and University of Utah Health are concurrently undergoing a Strategy Refresh Process. Together as One U we serve communities and the region, lead education and discovery, and innovate care, all while being accountable for outcomes. We believe that communities, partners, and people make us who we are, and we are fully invested in their health, wellness and success.

As we are going through our strategy refresh, we have observed senseless killings of black men and women across our nation and we are living through the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on people of color—further highlighting health inequities that have always existed but may not have been top of mind for many.

University of Utah Health’s Report to Our Community.

University of Utah Health is committed to addressing racism to reduce inequities. Our vision is to actively value equity, diversity, and inclusion and see the reflection and impact of these values at all levels of the organization—by recruiting and retaining diverse faculty, trainees, students, and employees. We are also striving to ensure that Utahns who seek care from University of Utah Health have easy and direct access to our services and are working to improve access to foundational health resources in languages other than English.

None of these goals can be met without community partnerships. An example of how we are forging partnerships is our Mental Health for Salt Lake (MH4SL) partnership. University of Utah Health, University Neighborhood Partners, Salt Lake County, and Latino Behavioral Health Services are coming together to review mental health resources available to residents of Salt Lake County’s west side. We understand that we can’t fully comprehend the needs of west side residents without bringing their voices to the table. In the near future, we will be convening community conversations around mental-health specific needs to conduct a gap analysis of mental health resources. Additionally, we will work side-by-side with community residents to make recommendations to improve mental health access to both Salt Lake County and University of Utah Health leaders.

In addition, University of Utah Health temporarily retrofitted our Wellness Bus (which typically provided diabetes screening, prevention, and education in west side communities) to a COVID-19 testing location. It was apparent a few months into the pandemic that the virus was disproportionately impacting people of color. We partnered with community organizations such as Comunidades Unidas, Urban Indian Center, Consulado de Mexico, the PRIDE Center, and many others to bring no-cost COVID testing to west side residents.

Communities are made up of the bonds that tie us all together. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how interconnected we all really are. We strive to be an equal partner, both in offering our expertise and listening to the experiences of the individuals who make up our community. It is our commitment to collaborate with the intent of better understanding community needs. Thank you for providing us the opportunity to partner with you, and to learn from you.

Content provided RyLee Curtis, Director of Community Engagement, University of Utah Health for the 2021 issue of UNP’s Community Voices magazine. 

Featured Photo: University of Utah Health workers demonstrating solidarity in spring 2020 as White Coats for Black Lives.


Family Voice in West Side Schools

In March 2020, COVID-19 hit the country. It illuminated unprecedented challenges and exposed other pandemics, including racial, economic and environmental issues which were already impacting the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities throughout the U.S. More specifically, the pandemic left many families with various crises — food and home insecurities, loss of work, as well as illness. In spring 2020, when sirens were constantly ringing, we educators were thrown into pandemic teaching mode, which required us to shift our teaching to online. This brought about much confusion and the digital divide became more apparent, as many students were not able to log onto the internet to access and continue their academic learning. This was a very frustrating experience for educators, BIPOC students, and families. Families were all of a sudden expected to become co-teachers, yet many were excluded from online classroom settings.

When we, the Family-School Collaboration Design Team, recognized the increased disconnection between families and educators caused by COVID-19, we considered ways that both groups could share their experiences, hopes, frustrations, and needs. We thought that it would be important to share their voices through recorded zoom videos. This was a powerful approach as families and educators taught us about how COVID-19 was straining their relationships, and they challenged us to be innovative about how to consider school and family engagement during the pandemic and beyond. We published a piece on what we learned in this past October’s Education Week.

As a first generation Purépecha/Chicana scholar who grew up along the San Diego-Tijuana border, the educational inequities I have witnessed during this pandemic have resonated with the experiences my family and I had of being excluded from the educational process. Being a daughter of immigrants who tremendously value education has guided my community-based approach to research. Listening and learning from the voices of families and educators is extremely impactful. We must do better by BIPOC students and families by providing them with access to education, as their input is valuable for us as a community to improve our practices.

The Family-School Collaboration Design Research Project is a team of parents, scholars, and educators working to increase family voice in school decision making. It is also a part of the Family Leadership Design Collaborative.

Content provided by Leticia Alvarez, Associate Professor, University of Utah College of Education for the 2021 issue of UNP’s Community Voices magazine.


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