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January 31, 2011

CCTS Community Engagement Initiatives Foster Many New Bidirectional
By Bernice B. Rumala and Rhonda G. Kost

One of the aims of the Rockefeller CCTS Community Engagement key function is to improve human health by fostering meaningful bidirectional research collaborations between scientists conducting mechanistic
studies and communities, community partners, and public health researchers. To facilitate achieving this goal, the Action Committee for Community Engaged Research (ACCER) recently held a meeting with several prominent faculty members from the CUNY School of Public Health to explore points of intersecting interests. In September, Dr. Kenneth Olden, the Founding and Acting Dean of the school, invited Lorna Thorpe, PhD, MPH and Tom Matte, MD, MPH to meet with the members of ACCER. Dr. Thorpe previously conducted public health research in numerous settings, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health for the City of New York, at Columbia University. Her research focuses on longitudinal assessment of health related issues in public housing residents. On December 1, 2010, Dr. Thorpe presented her extremely interesting studies and her plans for the future in the Rockefeller Clinical Research Seminar series. After her presentation she discussed her career and scientific interests during an informal lunch with members of the Clinical Scholars Program.

Dr. Thomas Matte is Director of Environmental Research at the Bureau of Environmental Surveillance and Policy at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and a faculty member at the School of Public Health. Dr. Matte studies the impact of environmental factors, such as air pollution, on the health of New Yorkers; he played an important role in the NYC Community Air Survey. He will speak on his work in April 2011 as part of the seminar series.

The ACCER also met with CUNY faculty member Dr. Mary Schooling, who models the impact of economic growth on changing patterns of chronic disease, and NYU faculty member Beverly Xavier-Watkins who has worked to empower minority communities across the city. In October 2010 the ACCER met with Dr. Steffi Woolhandler and Dr. Mike Himmelstein – both recently translocated to CUNY from Harvard University—who have studied extensively the impact of health policy and access to healthcare on health disparities. Their nationally recognized research on the role of health care costs on personal bankruptcy filings had a major impact on Congress’s and the President’s health care policies and legislation.

ACCER-facilitated meetings in the previous year have already resulted in the development of numerous collaborations. Dr. Alexander Tomasz and Dr. Jonathan Tobin, President of Clinical Directors Network (CDN) have collaborated to examine the incidence, molecular fingerprint, and transmission patterns of MRSA in local community health centers. This work is supported in part through funds from the CCTS. Recently, a complementary project emerged involving Clinical Scholar Dr. Mina Pastiagia from the laboratory of Vincent Fischetti. Dr. Pastagia’s laboratory work involves the development and testing of novel therapeutic agents with activity against MRSA. In December 2010, Drs Tobin, Pastagia, and Tomasz, and seven representatives from six CDN-affiliated community health centers met at Rockefeller and enthusiastically agreed to establish a community-based surveillance network for community associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.

As part of the CCTS Community Engagement educational program, a Community engagement Education Series was initiated in January 2010 with a series of sessions for research staff during weekly Interdisciplinary Rounds. Since the spring, a comprehensive Community Engagement curriculum has been offered as a monthly lecture series open to all CCTS research teams and staff. The lectures are led by CCTS Community Engagement Specialist Bernice B. Rumala, M.A., Ed.M, and have included viewing excerpts from the acclaimed video series, Unnatural Causes to stimulate discussions of health disparities. Other sessions have focused on roundtable discussions of how to best educate the public about scientific discoveries, enhancing health literacy, and ethical perspectives on data ownership of communities’ health information. The Community Engagement Education Series is offered on the second Tuesday of every month.

To foster bilateral engagement of community practitioners with academic researchers, the CCTS and CDN collaborate to educate clinicians about translational and community engaged research. In May 2010, Dr. Tobin and Dr. Kost, Clinical Research Officer at the CCTS, summarized some of the successes of this program in a poster presentation at the national CTSA Community Engagement Key Function Committee meeting in Bethesda, MD. The poster, “Using Web-based Distance Learning as a Bridge to Engage Academic Researchers and Community-based Primary Care Clinicians in Collaborative Translational Research,” described the role and outcomes of engaging academic researchers in presenting clinician-oriented lectures in the area of their research. The lectures are disseminated to community health center staff and other interested clinicians nation-wide through a live webcast and a free online webcast library hosted by CDN. Webcast lectures are attended by a wide variety of clinicians, many of whom are nurses. To insure bidirectional communication, Web-attendees provide valuable feedback via the internet on their educational needs and the best methods to educate practitioners about translational research. Preliminary data suggest that by producing a webcast lecture, researchers enhance the likelihood that they will participate in meaningful community engaged collaboration.

In August 2010, CCTS staff representing the Community Engagement core (Bernice Rumala) and Clinical Research Recruitment Outreach Support Services (CRROSS) (Caroline Melendez and Stefanie Tignor) collaborated with the Bionutrition Department (Director, Andrea Ronning and staff, Diane Meehan and Dacia Vasquez) and Research Nursing (Director, Melissa Offenhartz) on two highly visible community activities. The first was a Senior Health Fair in Harlem and the other was the American Diabetes Association Health Fair in the Bronx. These day-long events gave community members a chance to discuss their health needs, and provided an opportunity for CCTS and others to give health education to attendees. Rockefeller CCTS participation also raised community visibility for its translational research program.
For more information about CCTS Community Engagement initiatives, please contact Bernice B. Rumala at brumala@rockefeller.edu