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July 31, 2017

A Community- Academic Partnership to Understand the Correlates of Successful Aging
By Kimberly S. Vasquez, MPH and Rhonda G. Kost, MD

Food generally brings people together, and the new community-academic partnership between The Rockefeller University Center for Clinical and Translational Science (RU-CCTS), Clinical Directors Network (CDN), and Carter Burden Network (CBN) is no exception. Carter Burden Network is a non-profit multi-site senior community services organization on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and East Harlem that serves primarily low-income and vulnerable racial/ethnic minority seniors. In addition to a large day program at the 109th Street Leonard Covello Senior Center, it also serves individuals who were in long-term institutional settings before they moved into the beautiful and modern Metro East 99th Street facility.

RU-CCTS, CDN, and CBN share a common interest in understanding the correlates of successful aging in this population and in building a partnership and infrastructure to enable translational research to advance the health of seniors. RU-CCTS is committed to engaging populations across the life span, including hard-to-reach and underserved populations, such as low-income and minority seniors. To that end, the new RU/CDN/CBN partners are currently conducting a RU-CCTS-funded Pilot Project to characterize the health status and health challenges of the CBN population in preparation for future comparative effectiveness and mechanistic research studies.

The relationship between RU-CCTS and CBN started in October 2015 at the annual Lenox Hill Senior Health Fair organized by NYC Council member Ben Kallos, where the RU-CCTS bio-nutritionists Andrea Ronning and Glenis George-Alexander hosted a nutritional information table, and RU-CCTS Community Engagement Specialist, Ms. Kimberly Vasquez, discussed RU-CCTS’s collaborative research goals with leaders from several senior services organizations, including CBN. Nutrition is an important issue for seniors, many of whom have health challenges, and often subsist on limited budgets that limit food choices. In fact, food insecurity is among the greatest concerns of CBN seniors. In March 2016, the bionutrition team proposed conducting outreach to senior groups to conduct cooking demonstrations of affordable, easy-to-prepare, nutrient-dense recipes. CBN leadership immediately expressed interest and in the ensuing months, Ms. Ronning and Ms. George-Alexander conducted a series of cooking demonstrations at CBN’s Metro East 99th Street Social Adult Day Program. They focused on recipes geared to the foods distributed by CBN from the Common Pantry.

In July and August 2016, CBN leaders Mr. Bill Dionne, Executive Director of CBN, and Dr. Dozene Guishard, Director of Metro East 99th Street Social Adult Day Program, attended the monthly meeting of the RU-CCTS Action Committee for Community Engaged Research (ACCER) to discuss interest and priorities, and in August, the ACCER members – RU-CCTS Community Engagement Core Co-Directors Drs. Rhonda G. Kost and Jonathan N. Tobin (President/CEO Clinical Directors Network), the bionutrition team, and Dr. Barry Coller, Maija Neville-Williams, MPH, and Kimberly Vasquez, MPH, visited the CBN Center and the Metro East 99th Street Social Adult Day Program. They learned that the most pressing concerns for senior residents – as identified through surveys and use of services – in addition to food insecurity are depression, social isolation, and falls. CBN leadership has created many programs to address these concerns and needs.

Employing the Community-Engaged Research Navigation (CEnR-Nav) model to incorporate and align shared interests, strengths, and requirements, the RU/CDN/CBN partners developed a join research proposal and competed successfully for a 2016-2017 RU-CCTS Community-Engaged Research Pilot Award. The study is designed to: 1) Engage the Carter Burden residents, day participants, staff, and leadership in developing a sustainable community-academic partnership, 2) Use descriptive epidemiology to characterize the health status of CBN seniors, focusing on measures of frailty, including contributions from chronic conditions, as well as cardio-metabolic, musculoskeletal, psychosocial and nutritional factors, 3) Create a database for data acquisition at CBN sites to collect and integrate service utilization and research data, and 4) Develop robust longitudinal measures of frailty and related problems that can be used to assess the impact of different interventions to improve the health of the community.

The partnership is making progress across all of the aims. In 2016-2017, the team conducted a series of engagement meetings with more than 40 CBN residents to ascertain their main concerns related to healthy aging and make sure the study-related assessments will capture these priorities. Enrollment of 240 participants is actively underway to provide the baseline measurements for future studies.

In April 2017, Dr. Guishard of CBN joined several RU/CDN team members to co-present a poster at the 2017 Association for Clinical Translational Science Meeting in Washington, D.C. At the same meeting, Drs. Kost and Tobin presented an invited talk on the CEnR-Nav model of engaging community stakeholders into early translational research, emphasizing the investigators’ perspectives through videos of RU scientists who conduct mechanistic/CEnR projects. This shined a spotlight on the importance of community-academic partnership in the design and conduct of research projects that reflect community priorities and that are designed to accelerate translation of new scientific knowledge into improved population health.