Annual event puts focus on community collaborations in research

Apr. 10, 2014

About 80 representatives from community organizations across the state met April 1 in Indianapolis to explore how academic researchers and community organizations can work together to tackle some of the greatest health issues in Indiana. 


Douglas Miller, M.D., left, and Sarah Wiehe, M.D., co-directors of the Indiana CTSI Community Health Engagement Program, address the community advisory council. | Photo By Kevin Fryling

The event was the sixth annual meeting of the Community Advisory Council of the Community Health Engagement Program, or CHEP, of the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, a $60 million National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration among IU, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame. This year's event was co-hosted by the Indianapolis Public Library, the latest organization to join the council, which has grown over the past six years to include more than 550 organizations from across the state.

"This event is an exciting opportunity to reflect on how much this council has grown," said Sarah Wiehe, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of CHEP. "As part of that growth, we have tremendous capacity to match people both in the community and with academics with similar interests and hopefully make a big impact in terms of health outcomes in the state."

"From the beginning, this council has been a fundamental part of CHEP," added Douglas Miller, M.D., professor emeritus of medicine and co-director of CHEP. "It's a precious and irreplaceable resource that offers advice, skills and capabilities. It also provides groups of involved communities and academics who are actively developing robust partnerships tackling various health issues across the state. Improving health and health care through community-academic partnerships is the foundational element of our approach and our success."

One of the ways that CHEP fosters these connections, and their impact on health, is through pilot funds for community-academic partnerships. This year's event included presentations on several projects funded under the program's 2013 grant awards. (Applications for this year's pilot grants are due May 16.)


Helen Sanematsu of the Herron School of Art and Design discusses a collaborative research project with the Fairbanks School of Public health and IU Health's Garden on the Go. | Photo By Kevin Fryling

Helen Sanematsu, assistant professor of visual communication design at the Herron School of Art and Design, presented a partnership with Garden on the Go, a "mobile farmer's market" from IU Heath that provides access to fruit and vegetables in resource-limited communities across Indianapolis. The project takes an innovative approach to health data collection through the use of food journals and digital cameras, in which Garden on the Go visitors are asked to record their daily health activities, including a photo of "everything they eat," over the course of several weeks. The journals are collected for analysis when the mobile unit returns to the neighborhood. Volunteers keep the cameras as a gift for their participation.

The project is partially an attempt to overcome the limitations of traditional surveys, in which many individuals observed to be in poor health personally report their health status as "good" to "excellent," Sanematsu said. Other academic partners on the project are Young-Bok Hong, also a faculty member at Herron, and Terry Zollinger, DrPH, professor emeritus at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI. The leader of Garden on the Go is Lisa Cole, manager of Indianapolis Community Outreach at IU Health.

Carol Price of the Healthy Communities of Clinton County Coalition described a collaborative project with CHEP, which has launched a data analysis project to review the coalition's activities. Since 2006, Price said, the coalition has implemented numerous initiatives in partnership with local government, educational, economic, public health and non-profit organizations to curb tobacco use, obesity and infant mortality in this rural county.

The result of these actions has been a 20-point increase in the county's public health ranks from 51st to 31st in Indiana. CHEP is creating a detailed timeline of their activities that identify what has made the coalition's approach such a success. The efforts are aimed towards creating a template for similar achievement in other rural communities across the state or beyond. 


Carol Price of the Healthy Communities of Clinton County Coalition, left, speaks with Tom Spradling, a medical account executive at Merck & Co., Inc. | Photo By Kevin Fryling

A diabetes management program implemented in partnership between the members of the Michiana Health Exchange Network and the University of Notre Dame was also discussed. Led by Nitesh Chawla, Ph.D., Frank Freimann Collegiate Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Notre Dame researchers have developed a smartphone application that enables adult patients with diabetes to easily participate in quick daily health assessments, including reporting daily blood glucose levels, physical activity, nutrition and a two-question depression survey. The app also provides physicians a quick snapshot of the patient's health trends prior to a clinical visit, which assists in health recommendations at the point of care.

The system will be implemented at Memorial Health Hospital of South Bend, a part of the Beacon Health System. Dr. Chawla is also the director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science & Applications, or iCeNSA. The research project was presented by Waldo Mikels-Carrasco, community health program manager for iCeNSA, who also serves as the Indiana CTSI CHEP liaison at Notre Dame. Donna Vandergraff, an extension specialist in the Department of Nutritional Science at Purdue, who serves as the Indiana CTSI CHEP liaison at Purdue, was also present.

The event concluded with breakout sessions led by Demetrius Glover, Ph.D., director of research and information resources at the United Way of Indiana, and Beth Meyerson, Ph.D., assistant professor at the School of Public Health at IU-Bloomington, and Tony Gillespie, senior field consultant for the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.  In the afternoon, CAC members were invited to remain for the IUPUI Center for Urban Health Public Health Week Conference with a keynote address from Lisa Harris, M.D., CEO of Eskenazi Health.

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