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BCTR and the new Cornell Center for Health Equity

April 5, 2018

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From right, Drs. Avery August and Monika Safford, co-directors of the Center for Health Equity, celebrate the center's opening with Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. David Satcher, the founding director of and senior adviser to the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Cornell Tri-Campus Health Equity Symposium, March 15-16 at Weill Cornell Medicine.

From right, Drs. Avery August and Monika Safford, co-directors of the Center for Health Equity, celebrate the center's opening with Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, and Dr. David Satcher, the founding director of and senior adviser to the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Cornell Tri-Campus Health Equity Symposium, March 15-16 at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Adapted by Sheri Hall for the BCTR from an article by Timothy Malcolm for the Cornell Chronicle

The newly-formed Cornell Center for Health Equity (CCHEq) held its inaugural symposium on March 15 and 16 at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. David Satcher’s keynote address emphasized that health equity means “everyone has the opportunity to achieve their highest state of health.”

The CCHEq brings together researchers from Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell’s Ithaca campus, and Cornell’s Tech Campus in NYC. Together they will work to better understand why health outcomes vary among demographic groups and generate new evidence on how to eliminate health disparities with the goal of achieving health equity for people locally, regionally, and nationally.

Portrait of Jennifer Tiffany

Jennifer Tiffany

Jennifer Tiffany, BCTR’s director of outreach and community engagement is a key faculty member working with the CCHEq. Tiffany also serves as the

executive director of Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s New York City programs (CUCE-NYC) and leads the Community Engagement in Research team at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Center.  These roles enable her to work with the CCHEq to bring together researchers from New York City and Ithaca and to promote partnerships with communities, practitioners, and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE).

“At a time when economic inequality within the U.S. and New York state is extreme and rising, working actively to promote health equity is particularly crucial,” Tiffany said. “Partnerships with communities that experience extreme health disparities are vital to this work, as are the kinds of multidisciplinary and cross-campus partnerships the CCHEq seeks to develop and sustain. The BCTR has strong interests, resources, and capabilities in all of these areas.”

Tiffany and Elaine Wethington, an associate director of the BCTR, both participated in the March symposium. Tiffany presented on “Using Geospatial Mapping to Plan and Assess Programs" as part of the session on community-partnered research. She also participated in a panel called "Building a Sustainable Community-Engaged Research Program.”

Portrait of Elaine Wethington

Elaine Wethington

Wethington, who is co-director and director of pilot studies of the BCTR’s Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life, has been working for over a year with CCHEq investigators and other Ithaca-based investigators on proposal submissions through the CCHeq. She has also recruited other Ithaca investigators to take part in proposals and other collaborative projects with CCHEq.

“I hope that many other Ithaca faculty follow me in affiliating with the Center for Health Equity,” Wethington said. “Collaboration with the CCHEq is an outstanding opportunity for social scientists to partner on research projects that will have immediate application to improve the lives of New Yorkers living with disadvantage.”

The CCHEq will address disparities in heart disease, stroke, and cancer outcomes in disadvantaged minority communities in the diverse, urban New York City area, as well as in more rural regions of New York state. Working with organizations and providers deeply engaged in their communities, including caregivers and local health centers, the investigators will analyze the role of policy, societal biases, socio-economic status, educational attainment, health care providers, and the home and family environment in overcoming these disparate health outcomes.

For one of its projects, the CCHEq is engaging with Afro-Caribbean communities that increasingly use New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Using data showing higher prevalence of hypertension among populations of African descent, center investigators are working with colleagues at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist to plan events that encourage residents to be screened and receive treatment for hypertension. They hope that these activities will also motivate residents to be screened for common cancers – including breast, colon, and prostate cancers – that are also of higher prevalence in African-descent communities.

Along with that work, the CCHEq hopes to use data collected by Dr. Margaret McNairy, the Bonnie Johnson Sacerdote Clinical Scholar in Women’s Health and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, on the prevalence of emerging cardiovascular diseases in Haiti. Her work may become useful in identifying and promoting treatment of cardiovascular diseases in Haitian communities in New York City, said Dr. Monika Safford, co-director of the Cornell Center for Health Equity and chief of general internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

In Ithaca, Rebecca Seguin-Fowler, associate professor of nutritional sciences in the Colleges of Human Ecology and of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is seeking to reduce heart disease risk factors among women in the central, upstate, and Finger Lakes regions of the New York. In one project, called Strong Hearts, Healthy Communities, Seguin-Fowler is collaborating with CCE educators and the Bassett Healthcare Network’s Center for Rural Community Health to implement and evaluate a six-month cardiovascular disease risk-reduction program for overweight or obese women who are sedentary. The first phase of this community-randomized trial demonstrated effectiveness in reducing multiple disease risk factors, including weight loss and improved physical activity.

As the CCHEq grows, students in New York City and Ithaca will conduct research and work with fellow scientists and staff members across the two campuses. This aligns with one of Cornell’s strategic priorities, which emphasizes a connection between the medical school and other parts of the university through a distinct focus, in this case improving health equity.

The translational nature of the work, which brings together researchers across Cornell campuses and involves community members, is in line with the BCTR’s mission to speed and strengthen connections between research and practice.

“We want to drill down on this issue, so we are partnering with communities to understand their priorities and perspectives, collaboratively developing interventions based on science as well as community realities, and partnering with community organizations to sustain those interventions,” Safford said. “Cornell has such a broad reach. While we’re at the very beginning stages of our center, tapping into that Cornell community and potentially making an impact regionally is really exciting.”

Cornell Center for Health Equity established - Cornell Chronicle

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