School of Public Health

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Sterling David 2
Posted Date: January 27, 2020

Sterling DavidThe campus community mourns the passing of UNTHSC School of Public Health Professor David Sterling, PhD, CIH, ROH, who said goodbye surrounded at home by family after a courageous and lengthy battle with cancer.

Dr. Sterling was a beloved Biostatistics and Epidemiology Department professor who touched the lives of many students and contributed in important ways to the field of public health and the good of the community over a career that spanned more than 35 years.

He joined UNTHSC in 2008, serving in different roles over the last 11 years, including Research Fellow with the UNTHSC Institute for Patient Safety; Interim Chair, Department of Epidemiology; Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health; Research Affiliate with The Texas Prevention Center and Center for Community Health; Director, Doctoral PhD Program in Public Health Sciences; and School of Public Health P&T Committee.

For 18 years, Dr. Sterling led the Asthma 411 initiative, a comprehensive, school-based program to improve outcomes for children with asthma. He first initiated Asthma 411 in St. Louis between 2002 and 2008 with support from the CDC. One of his most noted accomplishments at UNTHSC was the continued development, adaption and dissemination of Asthma 411 in Fort Worth for students in grades pre-K through 12.

In 2013, a two-school, two-year pilot of Asthma 411 was conducted in Fort Worth. Based on positive outcomes the program was expanded, is now adopted by 10 districts with over 230,000 students, and is supported by a consortium of area healthcare partners.

In 2018, the Asthma 411 team was recognized with a Fort Worth Business Press Healthcare Heroes award for the work being done to address the high rates of this growing national public health concern, by educating school-based healthcare providers, parents and caregivers on asthma management strategies for both home and school.

Dr. Sterling was named as a Fellow of the American Industrial Hygiene Association in 2017.

He was honored with the UNTHSC President’s Award for Educational Excellence in 2011 and was inducted into the Delta Omega national honorary society for public health in 2012.

With a PhD in Environmental and Occupational Health Science, an MS in Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene, and a BS in Biological Sciences, Dr. Sterling began his career as a Research Chemist at the Illinois Institute of Technology, ITT Research Institute, in Chicago in 1984. His work addressed industrial hygiene, ambient and indoor air quality, asbestos, odor science and hazardous waste and materials.

He joined the faculty at Old Dominion University, College of Health Sciences, in 1987, serving as Assistant Professor and Assistant Director for Programs in Environmental Health, College of Health Sciences.

From 1993 to 2008, he served on the faculty and as Program Director of the graduate Environmental and Occupational Health concentration at Saint Louis University School of Public Health and Social Justice, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Occupational Medicine. He was also founder and Co-Director for the Midwest OSHA Educational Training Center at Saint Louis University.

Dr. Sterling was a member of the American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygiene, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology and the International Society for Exposures Science.

In 2011, he was appointed to the National Board of Public Health Examiners’ committee overseeing design of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Certification in Public Health (CPH) exam.

He regularly served on National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other grant peer-review committees and served on the editorial board of the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health.

His numerous publications have focused on topics including asbestos-exposed workers; Parkinson’s disease in welders; air pollution and health; and NICHD-funded National Children’s Study research into the effects of environmental exposures on health from birth to age 16.

In what has been called one of the most comprehensive studies into environmental contamination from metal mining, Dr. Sterling and a team of physicians, scientists and students conducted five years of research into La Oroya, Peru, where a metal smelter mining lead, copper, zinc, silver and gold has been in almost continuous operation since 1922.

Of all his achievements, Dr. Sterling seemed most proud of his work in mentoring students to their own personal success. Over the years, he provided guidance and support to lead students toward meaningful careers in public health and research, as well as academic honors, national awards and publication in many peer-reviewed journals.

“We all hope to leave behind a legacy,” said UNTHSC School of Public Health Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD, “and one of the true measures of a person’s success is what is given to others during our lifetime. Dr. Sterling will be greatly missed by the campus community and all those he touched over his life and his career.”

Messages and condolences for the family can be delivered to the School of Public Health Dean’s office, EAD 749.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that those wishing to honor Dr. Sterling’s memory consider a contribution to the Asthma 411 program. Please visit https://www.unthsc.edu/give, choose “Give Now,” then use the “Designation” drop-down box for “Other” and specify “Asthma 411 in memory of Dr. David Sterling.”

 

 

Community Partners Group Honorees
Posted Date: January 22, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Community Partners Group Honorees

 

Great things happen when community partners work together, and the collaborations between the UNTHSC School of Public Health and various local organizations continue to grow stronger as more is done to impact the community in different ways.

Two years ago, local organizations were invited to campus to meet with SPH faculty and staff for networking and exploring community engagement and volunteer service opportunities, as well as ways of working together on research, special projects and other initiatives benefitting North Texas citizens.

Community Partners Klocek

Carol Klocek honored by SPH

That year, the SPH contributed 500 hours of community service to various agencies and programs, and since the matches and partnerships were formed, SPH community service has continued to build in a major way, jumping 168% in 2019 to more than 1,330 contributed service hours.

In recognition, partnering agencies and SPH faculty and staff who went above and beyond in their community service commitments during 2019 were recently honored at a follow-up event for all they are doing to make North Texas healthier.

Two special partner awards were presented to community leaders representing the Center for Transforming Lives and JPS Health Network.

Carol Klocek, CEO of the Center for Transforming Lives, was honored for her leadership and commitment to helping local women and their children escape poverty and homelessness.

The Center works to break the cycle of generational poverty for Tarrant County women with children though homeless services, early childhood education and financial education. Under Klocek’s leadership since 2009, the Center has expanded to serve thousands of women and children, and the agency’s operating budget has grown to more than $9 million with nearly 100 full-time employees.

Klocek was nominated by SPH faculty member Erika Thompson, PhD, for her organization’s work as well as her willingness to collaborate on research and service learning projects with SPH students.

Community Partners Rohit

Community partner honoree Dr. Rohit Ojha with SPH Dean Dennis Thombs

Also honored as an Outstanding Community Partner was Rohit P. Ojha, DrPH, who directs the Center for Outcomes Research at JPS Health Network.

A 2010 DrPH graduate of the SPH, Dr. Ojha was recruited by JPS in 2016 to establish the Center and serve as its Director.

His department studies the clinical, lifestyle and behavioral factors that can impact health outcomes of underserved populations. The goal is to build a healthier community for individuals and families across the JPS service area.

Working with Tarrant County Public Health and other area healthcare organizations and providers, Dr. Ojha’s team also collaborates with UNTHSC, offering learning and research project opportunities for SPH epidemiology and biostatistics graduate students.

Dr. Ojha was nominated for his award by SPH Biostatistics and Epidemiology Chair Sumihiro Suzuki, PhD.

In addition to the Outstanding Community Partner awards, SPH faculty and staff honored as heroes for their extra community service efforts during 2019 included Dr. Dana Litt, Danielle Rohr, Dr. Erica Stockbridge, Dr. Erika Thompson, Dr. Misty Smethers, Dr. Thad Miller and recent UNTHSC retiree Ywanda Carter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nandy & Ashvita Garg
Posted Date: January 6, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Mahbuba Khan

Mahbuba Khan with her award-winning poster

Two SPH epidemiology students were honored for their work at the recent American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting and expo in Philadelphia.

The event’s theme was “Creating the Healthiest Nation: For science. For action. For health.”

The annual conference represents one of the largest annual gatherings of public health professionals in the U.S.

Thousands attend, and thousands of new abstracts are presented each year, making the APHA annual meeting one of the most influential meetings in public health.

Recently, two UNTHSC School of Public Health Epidemiology students, under the mentorship of faculty member Karabi Nandy, PhD, received national recognition for their work.

Nandy Ashvita Garg

Dr. Karabi Nandy with Ashvita Garg

The Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs (ATOD) Program Planning and Awards Committee presented the ATOD Award for Outstanding Student Poster to Epidemiology doctoral student Ashvita Garg for her presentation on “Correlates of Intent to Quit Smoking Among Dual Users of Electronic and Combustible Cigarettes: A Population Based Sample of the United States.” Epidemiology doctoral student Noah Peeri and Biostatistics master’s student Bingchun Wan were also involved in this work.

2019 MPH Epidemiology graduate Mahbuba Khan was selected as winner of the Best Student Abstract award by the Caucus on Homelessness Poster Section Committee for her abstract, “Factors Associated with Medication Adherence Among Persons in Permanent Supportive Housing,” based on the work of UNTHSC’s technology-assisted m.chat health coaching program. SPH faculty members Dr. Rajesh Nandy and Dr. Scott Walters were also involved in this work.

“We are very proud of the APHA honors these students received,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, SPH Dean. “The awards represent hard work and important studies in public health, and the annual APHA conference is most certainly a significant opportunity for presenting that work.”

Miller Holiday 2
Posted Date: December 18, 2019

By Sally Crocker

 

Miller HolidaySome travel by sleigh high above the rooftops in the month of December, while others choose a different route.

Recently, the message of holiday friendship, caring and service came by trucks, bags and overstuffed boxes from the U.S. to families in need at two small elementary schools on the outskirts of Piedras Negras in the northeastern Mexican desert, where health services and many necessities of daily living can be scarce.

For 13 years, UNTHSC School of Public Health Associate Professor Thad Miller, DrPH, and his family have volunteered with the larger mission this holiday express is part of, traveling to tiny rural communities across the harsh Chihuahua desert to staff temporary clinics and provide medical and dental treatment and other support to the local villagers.

The Millers have participated in the holiday trips for the last three years, taking one day each December to deliver good spirit, warm clothing and children’s special gifts along with the needed healthcare services and medicines.

This recent visit was facilitated by the International Rotary Club’s Piedras Negras Chapter, whose members met the surrogate Santas as they crossed the border.

Dr. Miller served as volunteer pharmacy technician while his wife Kelly, a North Texas pediatrician and TCOM graduate, treated schoolchildren as well as many of their infant siblings and parents.

Overall, the Feliz Navidad team served about 50 children and 10 adults between two schools in one day.

Miller Holiday 4“On the day we come no class is held, all the children dress up in their very best clothes, and their mothers, younger siblings, grandparents and sometimes fathers attend,” Dr. Miller said.  “The kids are so excited. First we do the clinic, then it becomes more like a festival day – this year we brought pizza, a rare treat for the children, and a piñata, and the families brought all of us volunteers homemade tamales and charro beans as gifts in return.”

Fredericksburg and New Braunfels-area Rotarians provided the toys, along with blankets and clothing, assuring that each child received something personal and special.

The Miller family contributed their own gifts of knitted hats made by Dr. Miller’s sister, whose family has also been a part of various Mexico mission trips over the years.

“Temperatures run quite cold this time of year and there is a real lack of warm clothes among many families, so these items are much appreciated,” Dr. Miller said.

By mid-afternoon, the volunteers left the kids playing with their new dolls, crafts, footballs, soccer balls and other presents as they packed up to head home.

Tired but still in the holiday spirit, they crossed the border around 5 p.m. and arrived home by midnight.

“It was a very long day to be sure,” Dr. Miller said, “but rewarding as always.”

Miller Holiday 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Amy Board
Posted Date: December 13, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Amy BoardFor decades, the image of worn out shoe leather with a prominent hole in the bottom has served as a visual representation of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) disease detectives who travel the world investigating outbreaks that threaten the public’s health.

These officers have been globally recognized as the CDC’s “boots on the ground” epidemiologists for 65 years and counting, stepping up at a moment’s notice to tackle public health threats like polio, smallpox, Ebola, SARS, the Zika virus, Legionnaires’ disease, HIV/AIDS, E. coli and anthrax bioterrorism, all to help save lives and protect people.

Being chosen for the very competitive EIS post-graduate fellowship program is a high honor.

Although only a small handful are selected, hundreds of scientists, healthcare and public health professionals apply annually for this two-year, hands-on opportunity to work under the mentorship of experienced epidemiologists at the CDC and partnering agencies.

Among the new EIS Class of 2019 is Amy Board, DrPH, MSW, MPH, a graduate of the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health (DrPH ’17 and MPH ’13).

Dr. Board is among 66 individuals chosen for this year’s class.

“It is especially noteworthy to be named an EIS officer – selection is highly competitive,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, Dean of the UNTHSC School of Public Health. “EIS officers are CDC’s disease detectives. They serve as the nation’s front line defense against disease outbreaks and major epidemics not just in the U.S., but around the world. Our school is extremely proud of Dr. Board.”

EIS officers are often the first on the scene as rapid responders who investigate the cause of sickness and germs and how they are spread, responding as well to natural disasters and emerging public health threats that can happen anywhere, at any time.

CDC EIS officers track down and identify causes and rapidly take action to control disease outbreaks and public health emergencies when they occur, as well as recommend actions for future prevention.

Dr. Board is assigned to CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Overdose Prevention, Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch. Her home base will be in Atlanta.

“The EIS program offers a unique combination of on-the-job learning and service. I had the double excitement of first being accepted and then finding out that I would be spending the next two years further developing my epidemiology skills through a subject area I’m particularly interested in learning more about,” she said. “I couldn’t have been more thrilled for this opportunity.”

Dr. Board was first drawn to a public health career years ago while working for the Catholic Charities of Fort Worth refugee services program – it was there that she was exposed to many global health issues in chronic and infectious diseases that she ended up wanting to study at a higher level.

“I had heard about UNTHSC’s public health program and thought it sounded really interesting. I wasn’t aware of public health as a career option before then, but as soon as I started the MPH program, I knew this was what I wanted to do moving forward,” she said.

“In public health, the community is your ‘patient,’ and I love knowing that the work I do can have a positive impact on a broad scale,” Dr. Board said.

 

Ywanda Carter
Posted Date: December 9, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Ywanda Carter43 years ago, a young girl left Alabama for Fort Worth, anxious to meet up with her Texas cousins to find a meaningful career and a new place to call home.

Ywanda Carter’s mother believed that an education was good to have, as long as a girl backed it up with useful skills she could “do with her hands.”

So in addition to completing a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, Carter followed mom’s advice, taking night courses in shorthand, dictation and business support services.

She was fast on the keys, striking out 60 to 65 words per minute on her typing test, made challenging by the heavy return carriage that required a manual slap at the end of each line.

“You tried to be perfect,” Carter said, laughing, “because fixing an error with correction ribbon could be a real mess.”

Carter had plans to become a teacher, but life, as it turned out, had other ideas.

She applied with the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) but instead found her way to administrative work at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, long before there was a UNT Health Science Center on the horizon.

Camp Bowie Boulevard, Montgomery, Seventh Street, University Drive and surrounding neighborhoods looked quite different in 1976.

A renovated bowling alley on Camp Bowie housed the early TCOM classrooms, basic science laboratories and related administrative offices.

Carter’s office, too, was in a renovated space, on the site of a previous hotel at the Camp Bowie and Montgomery intersection.

That location is now the UNTHSC Education and Administration (EAD) building, where she still works.

Many transformations have taken place over the last four decades, including Carter’s move to the UNTHSC School of Public Health around 2004, where she will celebrate her upcoming retirement at the end of this year as the university’s longest-serving staff member.

As SPH Senior Administrative Associate, Carter has worked with faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members, and in the early days before the School of Public Health, she also interacted with physicians, nurses and others who served patients at the old Fort Worth Osteopathic Hospital.

Doing her job is a lot easier today, thanks to computers, email, voicemail, internet and other modern conveniences.

“Back then, you had to walk to different offices for signatures on a memo. There were no fax machines or scanners. We worked with carbon paper for copies and typed envelopes one by one,” Carter said. “I remember being in absolute heaven when liquid paper came out in different colors.”

Carter With Supervisor 1978 Yearbook

            Carter and her supervisor in 1978

In those days, Carter said, if you needed to know something, you had to look it up in an old-school dictionary or make a trip to the library. She liked spending time there, ultimately deciding to pursue a master’s degree in information science at UNT Denton.

“I did my practicum here at the Gibson D. Lewis Library in the late 90s as a part- time indexer for a grant project of the American Osteopathic Association,” she said, “developing a database of osteopathic books and articles going back to the 1940s and 50s.”

The mind of a teacher is always inquisitive, which may explain why Carter was drawn to library research and why she finds it so interesting nowadays to “be able to look up just about anything online.”

Has she ever missed teaching?

“About a year after I started working for UNTHSC, the FWISD called about another opportunity, but by then I had found that I really liked the people here, the 8-to-5 work schedule and not having to take papers home to grade on weekends,” Carter said.

So she has stayed the course at UNTHSC for 43 years, finding different ways to mentor young minds through her volunteer service with the FWISD Reading Partnership Program and other organizations.

With retirement coming soon, she’s excited about moving into a new chapter of life with her husband and family.

While she calls herself “essentially a homebody who plans to enjoy doing nothing for a while,” Carter will be continuing her volunteer work with the schools, her church and the Center for Transforming Lives, a local organization providing hope, help and homes to families in crisis.

“The longer I live, the happier I am. I’m in a good place right now,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be 20 again, or 30, 40 or 50. At this moment, things feel very good.”

 

 

 

 

 

Unt Health Science Center Immunization Team Web
Posted Date: December 2, 2019

By Sally Crocker

SWe are all in this together

It’s early morning when a fleet of vans rolls out from Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH), ready to immunize children and keep them safe from the dangerous, sometimes deadly effects of infectious diseases like measles, polio, chickenpox and others.

Across town, the UNT Health Science Center Pediatric Mobile Clinic hits the streets on a similar mission, and the Pediatric Clinic on the UNTHSC campus opens for another day of service to local families.

A lot has changed over the last 30 years, from a time when children as near as Dallas County were dying from a measles outbreak that threatened the entire U.S.

More community resources are available today than ever before to protect the health of children, often at low or no cost and provided at convenient locations all around the community.

Hard lessons have been learned from the country’s battles over the last century against polio, influenza, smallpox, tuberculosis, whooping cough, pertussis, mumps, Rubella, scarlet fever and other causes of childhood deaths or harm.

Given current science, the developed world should suffer less from infectious disease, yet news reports shout headlines every day about the growing anti-vaccination sentiment in Texas and across the country, and measles made another comeback this year as a major public health concern.

“There is an incredible amount of misinformation to be found on social media and internet sites,” said Terri Andrews, President of the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County (ICTC), a non-profit that partners with organizations like UNTHSC, TCPH, health care providers and concerned citizens to educate, advocate, support and inform efforts on behalf of healthy children.

As a grandmother who remembers receiving her own vaccinations at school back in the days when they were required for all children almost without exception, Andrews attributes today’s growing vaccine hesitancy to a number of reasons, including some very vocal opposition groups, such as the locally based Texans for Vaccine Choice.

“Take a stand for liberty,” “preserve our rights” and “parents call the shots” are the types of messages found on these websites. What’s missing is the science and a public health perspective on why children’s vaccinations are so critical to the health of communities.

Proven protections

The benefits of vaccinations are twofold.

First, they provide long-term, sometimes lifelong protection against a particular disease.

They also keep other people safe in a very interesting way.

“It’s called ‘herd immunity,’ in that vaccines protect not just the individuals who receive them, but others around them as well,” said Anita Colbert, LVN, TCPH Immunization Outreach Supervisor. “When enough people in a community are vaccinated, it’s harder for a disease to spread and it’s safer for all.”

Since 1990, in the days when she was first hired by TCPH and loaded up the trunk of her own car to take immunizations to schools, churches, community centers, neighborhood events and anywhere kids could be found, Colbert has engaged with parents to provide information and the scientifically based facts they need to make sound decisions.

“There is now a whole new generation of parents who have never known polio, never seen people die from measles,” she said. “As a child, I remember throwing an absolute fit over my own polio immunizations, until my mom took me to see children in iron lungs. The experience is still with me today, and I do believe this led to my interest in public health and working to keep kids safe.”

Erika Thompson, PhD, UNTHSC School of Public Health Assistant Professor of Maternal and Child Health, who works with Colbert and Andrews on ICTC efforts and conducts research on the HPV vaccine for adolescents and young adults, says vaccine hesitancy can come from fear of chemicals or harmful ingredients, concerns over side effects and opposition to so-called government “interference” in personal choices. It also stems from conspiracy theories, distrust in pharmaceutical companies,  and uninformed influences from friends, family and peer groups.

There are even disinformation campaigns from sources like Twitter bots and Russian trolls. For example, recently published research in the American Journal of Public Health found internet trolling from Russian sources relied on propaganda to spread false information about vaccines on the social media of Americans.

“Additionally, many states, Texas included, have made it easy for families to opt out of the school-required children’s immunization schedule,” Dr. Thompson said. “All it takes is going online to complete a simple form with your contact information and the names of your children.”

In recent years, anti-vaxxer groups have been known to go to great lengths to convince parents to opt out, even showing up at back-to-school health fairs and community immunization events to tell families how “easy and timesaving” it is to file the form and get a vaccine exemption for their kids.

The number of opt outs is rising nationwide, experts say, and is of great concern in many communities, including Tarrant County, which is now considered a “hot spot” because of its alarming increase.

Nationwide, there is a movement among physician groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, to opt out of serving families who refuse to vaccinate.

The Academy’s stand is that families who do not vaccinate their children are jeopardizing the health of the overall community by creating unnecessary risks for the children of other families, persons with weakened immunity systems and pregnant women.

Vaccine hesitancy

As someone who was among the first age group eligible for the HPV vaccine when it was introduced in 2006, Dr. Thompson said she wishes more people recognized credible sources of information endorsing vaccines, rather than the misinformation online.

Her research focuses on the HPV vaccine, and it was her experience as an “early adopter” to get protected herself while in college that helped lead her to graduate studies and a career in public health.

UNT Health Pediatric Clinic Medical Director Sarah Matches, DO, also is seeing a significant rise in parents with vaccine hesitancy. During the last 25 years she has been with UNTHSC, she says, the last five have been the most concerning.

“Word of mouth and the internet do seem to be doing the most harm, and there are even campaigns that try to discredit reliable information sources like the CDC,” Dr. Matches said. “There are those who don’t trust organizations like the CDC because they are government sources.”

Still, she says, most patients do want to vaccinate and understand the importance, as evidenced by the more than 10,000 immunizations administered through the UNTHSC Pediatric Clinic annually. Add to that the tens of thousands of doses of vaccines given each year through the public health department, partners like ICTC and other organizations and health care providers, and there is hope that the majority of children will be protected.

“The important thing to know is that vaccines are very safe in all but a few rare cases,” said Christina Robinson, MD, UNTHSC Assistant Professor, Pediatrics, and Pediatric Mobile Clinic Medical Director. “For parents with questions, concerns or anxieties, the best place to start is by having a conversation with your health care provider. We are all in partnership together, all looking for the best outcome for your child, and we are here to provide the answers you need to feel more comfortable.”

Finding reliable answers

Dr. Robinson also recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website as a good resource for credible vaccine information.

“The facts are presented in easy-to-follow layman’s terms, like a grandmother’s good, solid advice,” she said.

Other resources Drs. Robinson and Matches suggest include the national Immunization Action Coalition, the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Tarrant County’s own Public Health department and ICTC website.

These organizations are also active on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, so parents can connect that way as well.

Guarding children’s health really does take a village, and Tarrant County is fortunate to have so many resources available to families.

“We can all count on the fact that vaccines have a long history of saving lives and still remain as one of the best and safest ways to protect your kids,” Andrews said. “We are all in this together.”

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.
Posted Date: November 15, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.

The 2019-20 academic year marks the 20th anniversary of the UNTHSC School of Public Health, with various celebrations going on throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Recently, the SPH hosted a Founders Luncheon for faculty, students and staff to hear from some of the early community leaders, faculty members and employees who were a part of the school’s early history.

Five panelists were on hand to talk about the early days and some of the successes and challenges the school faced 20 years ago.

Joining the program was Dr. Tom Yorio, UNT Health Science Center faculty and former Provost, who was instrumental in starting the School of Public Health back in the days when he served as Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Libby Watson, a strong supporter and benefactor of UNTHSC and the School of Public Health and one of the early community leaders who advocated for establishing a school of public health in Fort Worth, also participated in the event to look back at the history of the SPH and share reflections from the early days.

Watson served as Fort Worth’s Assistant City Manager at that time and was instrumental in helping to recruit local leaders to support the launch of the SPH.

Also on the program was SPH Senior Administrative Associate Ywanda Carter, who is believed to be the longest serving UNTHSC employee. Carter has lived the University’s history over the last 43 years and shared interesting stories about both UNTHSC and the School of Public Health from the 1970s forward.

Retired SPH faculty member Dr. Terry Gratton came on board in 2000 after a long career with the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, where he spent 18 years with the Indian Health Service in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona, and five years with the Bureau of Prisons in Fort Worth. His experiences helped inform his teaching, both in the classroom and in the field, and in the early years with the SPH, he taught a special, cross-disciplinary Border Health course that took students to Laredo for Spring Break.

Another panelist was Dr. Karan Singh, former Chair of the SPH Department of Biostatistics, who served in many roles during his time with UNTHSC. Currently, Dr. Singh is Professor and Founding Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Community and Rural Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

“We express appreciation to the panelists who joined the event, as well as those who attended,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, School of Public Health Dean. “It’s so interesting to look back over the last 20 years to see how far we’ve come, and exciting to consider where we will go from here.”

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.From the beginning, the UNTHSC School of Public Health has been committed to public health education, research, service and community partnerships.

The idea of developing a public health program in Fort Worth started with collaboration between UNTHSC, North Texas community leaders and public health officials. Their hard work culminated in July 1995, when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the institution’s request to offer a Master of Public Health Degree (MPH) in collaboration with the University of North Texas, Denton.

After several years of offering this degree, the Board of Regents authorized UNTHSC to submit a proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create a School of Public Health and to request funds from the Texas Legislature to fund the School and its corresponding programs.

On December 1, 1997, the Association of Schools of Public Health (now ASPPH, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health) accepted UNTHSC’s Public Health Program as an affiliate member.

Five years later, in June 2002, the UNTHSC School of Public Health was accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

The needs of communities are always changing, impacting the work of public health researchers and professionals in the field. The goal of the UNTHSC School of Public Health is to help find solutions for healthier communities, which includes a focus on the following critical public health issues of today:

The opioid crisisDr. Scott Walters is Steering Committee Chair for an aggressive, National Institutes of Health (NIH) effort to speed scientific solutions to the nation’s opioid crisis. More than $350 million is supporting this multi-year study to reduce opioid deaths by at least 40% over a three-year period in nearly 70 communities hard hit by the opioid crisis across Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Alcohol use among teens and young adultsDr. Melissa A. Lewis and Dr. Dana M. Litt are involved in studies addressing risky alcohol use and behaviors among teens, young adults and college freshmen in age groups 15-25. The research team hopes to better understand motivations and influences for drinking, to develop prevention and intervention recommendations to reach these groups when they are most apt to make risky drinking decisions. Recently, the researchers received a new, three-year $630,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop a parent-based intervention addressing the impact of social networking sites on teen and young adult alcohol use.

Tuberculosis preventionDr. Thad Miller and colleagues are focused on eliminating tuberculosis. Dr. Miller is leader of the CDC’s Tuberculosis Epidemiologic Studies Consortium (TBESC) site at UNTHSC – one of 10 funded TBESC sites across the country – and the North Texas TB Trials Consortium.

Vaping, e-cigarettesDr. Tracey Barnett is concerned about the dramatic rise in high school and college students, even middle schoolers, who have tried or might try vapes or electronic cigarettes, which have been cleverly marketed to youth by tobacco and e-cig companies eager to lock in a new generation of consumers. She’s doing all she can to educate and inform the community about the dangers.

Interpersonal violence – Every year, more than 10 million people in the U.S. become victims of interpersonal violence. TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) is a program led by Dr. Emily Spence and colleagues, supported by the State of Texas, Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division, that collaborates with healthcare providers and community resources to give a voice to victims and help them connect with the care they need and feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to. This program recently received $1 million in new funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (USDHHS) Office on Women’s Health to further expand domestic violence support services in Tarrant County, Texas.

Mosquito monitoring and other insect-borne infectious diseasesDr. Joon Lee leads a team that partners with the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Public Health on West Nile virus surveillance and response to protect local citizens.

Vaccines, immunizationsDr. Erika Thompson is involved in research and advocacy for the HPV vaccine and others, and is active with the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County.

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.

Kids Social Media 1
Posted Date: November 1, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Kids Social Media 1

 

Parents can be one of the best deterrents to underage drinking by having knowledge of and talking to their kids about alcohol content presented on social networking sites, say two UNT Health Science Center public health researchers who are leading a new National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) study focused on teen and young adult alcohol interventions.

Dana M. Litt, PhD, Associate Professor at the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH), and UNTHSC SPH Professor Melissa A. Lewis, PhD, recently received a three-year, $630,000 NIAAA grant through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This project continues the work their teams have previously been involved with to combat drinking among youth ages 15-20.

In their previous work, the two researchers found that social media can have a tremendous impact on teens’ and young adults’ perceptions and behaviors regarding alcohol.

This new project is significant and innovative in that it involves the first parent-based intervention to be developed focusing on the role of social networking sites in teen and young adult alcohol use.

“Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and others can present messages encouraging drinking and making it look cool and fun,” Dr. Litt said. “Emojis, slang terms, even pictures of friends, peers or acquaintances sipping what appears to be alcoholic beverages at parties can all make drinking seem like the thing to do.”

“Online posts by celebrities and social media influencers that kids might admire and follow can also reflect and encourage drinking,” Dr. Litt said. “Parents may not necessarily get the implications or speak that language, but those who have that awareness can be very important in shaping the ways their kids interpret alcohol-related posts they see on social media.”

The UNTHSC research team has engaged with Penn State Professor Rob Turrisi, PhD, as a consultant on the project. Dr. Turrisi’s groundbreaking work in creating parent-based interventions for young adult drinking helped set the stage for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) programs on the power of parents in influencing their kids not to drink.

“Believe it or not, teens and young adults list their parents as playing a major role in their decisions to not drink alcohol before age 21,” Dr. Lewis said. “The conversations that families have together can make a big difference, which is why we are focusing on this crucial area of early intervention.”

The UNTHSC team will begin conducting parent focus groups to learn about the types of conversations they are already having with their kids about alcohol content they see on social media, areas where they may have questions or need more information, their levels of social media literacy and their skills in interpreting the messages found on popular social media sites frequented by teens and young adults.

The researchers will also conduct focus groups among those ages 15-20, to gain their perspectives on how parents can best talk to their kids about alcohol and social media use.

The final phase of the project will use the data gathered to develop and test a set of online, parent-based interventions and talking points that families can use as a guide to discussing alcohol-related content on social media.  Once put into place, the interventions will be tracked, to evaluate their preliminary impact on youth drinking perceptions and behaviors.

“Even though there are many influences on kids ages 15-20, we know that what parents say and the examples they set matter a lot,” Dr. Litt said. “Our goal through this project is to give parents the tools they need to open up those crucial conversations about alcohol and social media with their kids.”

Tessa Logo
Posted Date: October 28, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Tessa LogoAcross the U.S. and at home in North Texas, the rates of domestic violence and abuse are as steady as the beat of a heart, the tick of a clock.

Every minute across the country, approximately 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner.

Nearly three out of four Americans, in fact, personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

UNT Health Science Center researchers and North Texas-area community partners are working hard to help local domestic violence victims and are now expanding services to include a focus on HIV transmission, thanks to $1 million in new funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (USDHHS) Office on Women’s Health.

The UNTHSC-led TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) program was established in 2015 with USDHHS funding and is now also supported by the Texas Governor’s Office, Criminal Justice Division.

TESSA is designed to give a voice to victims of interpersonal violence and help them feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to.

The program brings area health providers, community resources, agencies and advocate services together to screen for, identify and address these individuals’ physical and emotional needs.

“Interpersonal violence affects not just a person’s physical and emotional safety but also long-term health,” said Emily Spence, PhD, UNTHSC School of Public Health Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity and Principal Investigator on the TESSA project.

“Interpersonal violence has been linked to higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior, as well as a 50-70% higher likelihood of future chronic health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, gynecological issues, gastrointestinal disorders, behavioral health illnesses and stress-related conditions,” Dr. Spence said.

Victims of interpersonal violence are also at increased risk of HIV infection, Dr. Spence said, due to forced sexual encounters, barriers to negotiating safer sex strategies and the sexual risk behaviors of abusive partners.

The new grant funding will help healthcare providers in reaching victims at key points in time, through primary care settings and emergency medical visits, to add HIV prevention and care services to the other assistance programs currently provided through the TESSA network.

TESSA partners include the UNT Health system and JPS Health Network, with health advocates at One Safe Place and Safe Haven providing trauma support services that include safety planning, health coaching, health navigation assistance, motivational interviewing and stress management programs. These community locations also link to resources for interim housing, children’s services, legal counseling, work training and job placement programs.

Healthcare utilization for interpersonal violence victims is 92% higher than for other patients, underscoring the important role of health providers in this collaborative effort.

Additionally, statistics show that individuals who talk to their medical provider about abuse are four times more likely to use an intervention and are 2.6 times more likely to leave an abusive relationship.

“Being able to add HIV-related services to this domestic violence safety network in our community is an important next step for the TESSA program and for those who need assistance,” Dr. Spence said. “TESSA is able to expand and serve more people in more ways because of the continued support of USDHHS, the Texas Governor’s Office and those working locally on this important public health concern that impacts so many lives.”

 

Special recognition goes to all those who helped achieve the program’s latest grant funding, including Co-Investigators Erika Thompson, PhD, and Jessica Grace, LMSW, from the UNTHSC School of Public Health, and Manza Agovi, PhD, and MaryAnn Contreras, RN, from JPS Health Network.