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UMass Medical School to host innovative competition to improve health care access in Worcester

Students, city agencies and community organizations participating in the first WooHealth Hackathon

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

November 07, 2019
Bronwyn Wada-Gill, SOM ’22, will join fellow students from UMass Medical School and eight other Worcester colleges and universities to be part of the WooHealth Hackathon taking place Nov. 15 and 16.

The WooHealth Hackathon taking place at UMass Medical School on Friday, Nov. 15, and Saturday, Nov. 16, will bring together students from nine Worcester colleges and universities for the city’s first-of-its-kind collaboration to improve public health.

The theme of improving physical access to health care was identified by the Worcester Division of Public Health’s Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Participants will brainstorm creative approaches to improve physical access to health care in Worcester for culturally diverse, low-income patients using a variety of simulation methodologies.

“We all have different ways of thinking about physical access to health care. I may think about lack of transportation; others may consider physical disabilities and other health concerns like anxiety as barriers to access,” said UMass Medical School participant Bronwyn Wada-Gill, School of Medicine ’22. “Having many students with many interests will help us all see the bigger picture. My expectation is to come out with an expanded vision of what health care access should look like.”

Developed by UMass Medical School and the Academic Health Collaborative of Worcester based at the Worcester Division of Public Health, the event is modeled on competitions first popularized in the technology industry in which people work on projects in small groups with the goal of creating a functioning product in a limited timeframe.

The Academic Health Collaborative seeks to improve public health through partnerships between the Worcester Division of Public Health and local universities. The collaborative works in concert with the Central Massachusetts Regional Public Health Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthy Greater Worcester to address community health priorities identified in the Community Health Improvement Plan.

“We are delighted to have nine institutions participating—Assumption College, Becker College, Clark University, the College of the Holy Cross, MCPHS, UMMS, Worcester State University, WPI and Quinsigamond Community College,” said Community Partnership Coordinator Kelsey Hopkins. “We’re expecting to pull together truly interdisciplinary teams with around 100 students and 50 subject matter experts from the colleges, universities and the Worcester community.”

Students will learn the basics of simulation in health care; consider ways to improve public health; and network with local experts and leaders in urban planning, transportation, health care and technology. The event will include community advocates and members from across the region’s culturally, economically and ability-diverse population to help teams grasp the scope and complexity of physical access to health care. Participants will be provided with simulation workshops, on-site planning resources, and consultation from local community advocates and professionals to support them as they develop their proposals. Teams will present their project abstracts to judges from participating institutions and organizations. Massachusetts State Rep. James O’Day of the 14th Worcester District has also signed on as a judge.

Winning teams will share cash prizes of $750, $500 or $250. Seed funding will be awarded to pilot projects deemed most feasible. Award sponsors include the Remillard Family Foundation, Abbvie Inc. and Tufts Health Plans.

“Hackathons encourage outside-the-box thinking by engaging a breadth of community participants to spark discussion and drive innovation,” said Melissa Fischer, MD, MEd, professor of medicine and associate dean for undergraduate medical education, curriculum innovation and the interprofessional Center for Experiential Learning and Simulation at UMass Medical School. “This event brings together all the components of our mission with respect to education, research and service by engaging learners and supporting community engagement in Central Massachusetts.”

Participants will be rewarded by a unique opportunity to contribute to an innovative public health event; share their passion; and engage with students, faculty and community leaders from across Worcester.

“The biggest opportunity is to manifest your proposal as an actual project with the Worcester Division of Public Health,” said Wada-Gill.”

The WooHealth Hack will be held in the Albert Sherman Center and iCELS suite at UMass Medical School. UMMS Chancellor Michael F. Collins; Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services Matilde Castiel, and Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. will kick off the proceedings on Friday, Nov. 15, with activities taking place  from 4 to 8:15 p.m. Activities will continue on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with project presentations at 2:30 p.m. led by UMMS Dean and Provost Terence R. Flotte. Visit the WooHealth Hackathon website to learn more and register.

Related story on UMassMedNow:
UMass Medical School pilots ‘Woo Health Hack