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UMMS, UMass Boston launch Center for Health Equity Intervention Research

UMass targets health disparities with $6.7M NIMHD grant program

By Lisa M. Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

July 26, 2012
   jeroan-allison   rosal_milagros 
   Jeroan Allison, MD, MS    Milagros Rosal, PhD

The University of Massachusetts has been awarded a $6.7 million grant over five years from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) to establish the UMass Center for Health Equity Intervention Research (CHEIR). Supported by a collaborative partnership between UMass Medical School and UMass Boston, CHEIR’s mission is to improve the health of socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority populations. UMass was also recognized as a Comprehensive Center of Excellence by NIMHD, which is part of the National Institutes of Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“This award offers an important opportunity to promote health equity and reduce health disparities in the Massachusetts communities that our institutions serve,” said Jeroan Allison, MD, MS, professor of quantitative health sciences and principal investigator for CHEIR. “We will also build a pipeline for the next generation of health disparity researchers, providing hands-on research experiences and mentoring to health and behavioral science students.”

Another important goal of CHEIR is to provide a consultative service to jumpstart new research projects for eliminating health disparities and to work with the community to advance research literacy.

The center will bring together several disciplines from UMMS and UMass Boston, including public health, medicine, psychology, nursing, cultural anthropology, sociology, biostatistics and informatics, to improve the health and health care of people across Massachusetts, including those at greatest risk.

“We believe we can move the field forward with a number of narrative-based interventions, focused on tools such as storytelling,” said Milagros C. Rosal, PhD, professor of medicine and co-principal investigator for CHEIR. “We will be developing interventions that reach people in a manner that is culturally appropriate and literacy sensitive.”

“We will focus on strategies that leverage the full spectrum of helpers available to patients and that do not require direct physician intervention, such as nutritionists and community health workers,” Dr. Rosal said. “This is about engaging vulnerable populations and the settings that serve them by working at multiple levels, such as patient, clinic and community.”

Research projects will test culturally appropriate interventions to reduce disparities. Specific projects include a multi-media program to promote mother-child communication about sexuality and sexual health protection in the Latino community; a new approach to facilitating post-partum weight loss among lower income new mothers; and an innovative adaptation of the community health-worker model to support hypertension management. These projects will involve academic-community collaborations involving researchers from UMMS and UMass Boston and several community-based organizations including the Women, Infant and Children program in Worcester, the Family Health Center of Worcester, the Lowell Community Health Center, and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Springfield.

An undergraduate minority health scholars program will be created at UMass Boston with the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture and the New England Institute for Native American Studies.

“There is enormous potential in the research we are undertaking,” said Maria Idali Torres, PhD, MSPH, associate professor, UMass Boston Department of Anthropology, director of the Gastón Institute and a CHEIR researcher. “The center represents the true spirit of community-engaged research that is central to the mission of UMass Boston and the goal of its ethnic institutes to reduce ethnic disparities.”

“CHEIR reflects the combined talent of a diverse group of researchers from UMass Medical School and UMass Boston dedicated to finding solutions to some of the most important health problems locally and across the nation,” said Dr. Allison. “Partnering with our community and training the next generation of health disparities researchers will greatly magnify the long-term impact of CHEIR.”


Faculty from several disciplines to lead CHEIR
The UMass Center for Health Equity Intervention Research (CHEIR) will
include faculty members from UMass Boston and UMass Medical School.

UMass Boston

  • College of Nursing and Health Sciences: Laura L. Hayman, PhD, MSN
  • Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy: Maria Idali Torres, PhD, MSPH, Phillip Granberry, PhD
  • The Institute for New England Native American Studies: J. Cedric Woods, PhD
  • The William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture: Barbara Lewis, PhD

UMass Medical School

  • Department of Quantitative Health Sciences: Jeroan Allison, MD, MS; Catarina Kiefe, PhD, MD; and Sharina Person, PhD
  • Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, Department of Medicine: Stephenie Lemon, PhD; Milagros C. Rosal, PhD
  • Department of Family & Community Medicine: Suzanne Cashman, ScD, Lee Hargraves, PhD; Barry Saver, MD, MPH, AM; Carole Upshur, PhD
  • Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office and Department of Psychiatry:
    Deborah Plummer, PhD
  • Faculty Diversity Scholar’s Program: Milagros C. Rosal, PhD, Deborah Plummer, PhD
  • Worcester County Prevention Research Center: Stephenie Lemon, PhD; Milagros C. Rosal, PhD; Suzanne Cashman, ScD
  • Worcester Pipeline Collaborative