SPH news

Posted Date: November 3, 2017

By Sally Crocker

Halloween Family Feud
UNT Health Science Center public health students celebrated Halloween 2017 in healthy style.

Halloween Blue ZonesAs part of a community-wide “Public Health in Action Series,” the School of Public Health was treated to a nutritious, tasty cooking demonstration courtesy of the Blue Zones Project Fort Worth.

Vahista Ussery, known locally as “Chef V,” boiled the pot to create a black bean and sweet potato Spooktacular Chili recipe and shared helpful tips on preparing vegetables, including her own techniques for chopping onions, peeling potatoes and slicing bell peppers.

A registered dietitian, Chef V is co-founder of the consulting and education company To Taste: A Culinary Nutrition Experience. To Taste works to help bridge the gap between medical advice, healthy eating and cooking.

“The chili was delicious, and Chef V received applause several times throughout the demonstration for her great kitchen tips and nutritional advice,” said Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer, Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity.

SPH students in the Health Insurance and Managed Care class added a different touch to Halloween with their presentation for the weekly Tuesday Interlude cohort session.

Dr. Thad Miller’s classes have been involved in teaching others as a way to reinforce their own learning experience, so this semester’s group decided on a “Family Feud Halloween” theme for their program on Medicaid and Politics. The group was graded on their presentation, which was well received by the audience.

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Posted Date: October 24, 2017

ZoonoticUNTHSC students, faculty and staff are invited to the 2nd Annual Zoonotic Disease Fair from noon to 3 p.m. on November 21, to learn about some of the common diseases found in Texas that can be passed from animals to humans.

“It pays to be aware,” said public health student Emily Blankenship, who is helping to organize the event with fellow Environmental and Occupational Health classmates.

“Typhus, once considered almost eradicated in the U.S., is back on the rise in Texas. This potentially fatal disease transmitted by fleas joins the growing list of tropical infections impacting the state,” Blankenship said. “In August, a Texas dairy issued recalls on raw milk found to contain drug-resistant Brucella bacteria. And Listeria outbreaks in Texas food production have made news over the last several years. With climate change, we also expect to see more and different zoonotic disease threats moving in.”

The theme of the event is “In Our Backyard,” featuring games, food, prizes and brief presentations by speakers from the Tarrant County Public Health Department and UNTHSC School of Public Health.

ZoonoticUNTHSC Assistant Professor Katherine Fogelberg, DVM, PhD, will speak from noon to 12:20 p.m. on One Health, a global initiative recognizing the interconnectedness of the health of people, animals and the environment. One Health promotes an interdisciplinary approach to population health among veterinarians, physicians, public health officials and other health professions.

From 12:20 to 12:40 p.m., Dr. Vinny Taneja, Director, Tarrant County Public Health, will talk about Re-emerging Diseases from Developing Countries.

Russell W. Jones, MPH, Tarrant County Public Health Chief Epidemiologist, will speak on Brucellosis Exposure in Hospitals from 12:40 to 1 p.m.

Come-and-go games and activities are scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m.

The event will be held in MET 109-111.

For more information, contact Emily Blankenship at eb0219@my.unthsc.edu or 817-901-4040.

Posted Date: October 12, 2017
Livingston and Barnett

Lead author Melvin D. Livingston, PhD, with Tracey E. Barnett, PhD

UNT Health Science Center researchers and colleagues have released findings from a new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, showing a reduction in opioid-related deaths following legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado.

Illegal and legally prescribed opioids now account for nearly 30,000 deaths a year in the United States, and the CDC says that 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

CDC data shows that opioid deaths from prescription drugs, heroin and synthetics like fentanyl have more than quadrupled since 1999.

In a July 31, 2017, interim report to the White House, the U.S. Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis emphasized the severity of the problem, calling America “a nation in crisis.”

“As policy makers continue to grapple with both the growing opioid crisis and the rapidly changing landscape of marijuana laws in the U.S., scientific evidence is needed to help inform policy decisions to combat this disturbing upward trend in opioid-related deaths,” said Melvin D. Livingston, PhD, lead author of the study.

The researchers analyzed Colorado data covering a 15-year period from 2000 to 2015 to compare changes in the number of opioid-related deaths before and after recreational marijuana sale and use was legalized.

Findings showed that opioid deaths fell more than 6 percent in the following two years after the state’s marijuana legalization, reversing the previous upward trend.

“As of 2016, eight states and Washington DC have legalized recreational marijuana. While we found an apparent public health benefit in short-term reduction of opioid-related deaths following Colorado’s legalization, it’s important to note that expanded, legalized marijuana can also be associated with significant potential harms,” Dr. Livingston said.

“For policymakers to weigh decisions balancing potential beneficial and detrimental effects of these laws, researchers must continue to examine the full range of health outcomes through further study,” he said.

Dr. Livingston is Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the UNTHSC School of Public Health.

Co-authors of the study were Tracey E. Barnett, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, also with the UNTHSC School of Public Health; Chris Delcher, PhD, from the University of Florida; and Alex C. Wagenaar, PhD, from Emory University.

Posted Date: October 4, 2017

Helena SungHelena Sung, who received her MPH in Health Management and Policy from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2014, has been awarded the Benjamin B. Ferencz Fellowship in Human Rights and Law from the World Without Genocide organization at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Ferencz fellowships are named for one of the world’s leading advocates of human rights, justice and peace, who prosecuted and received convictions at the 1947 Nuremberg, Germany, trials.

The fellowships provide financial support through World Without Genocide for work on core areas of human rights, including research, policy development and action at local, state, national and international levels.

A second-year law student, Ms. Sung was selected as a reporter for the American NGO Coalition of the International Criminal Court and will attend the Court’s annual Assembly of State Parties at the United Nations in New York.

Dr. Rohit OjhaDr. Rohit Ojha, who received his DrPH from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2010, was published in the September 2017 issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

A team led by Washington University researchers in St. Louis and Dr. Ojha examined whether insurance status may affect survival rates of children diagnosed with cancer.

The team looked at data on cancers diagnosed among children under 15 years old for the time period 2007-2009. Among 8,219 childhood cancer patients (131 without insurance; 2,838 with Medicaid; and 4,297 with private insurance) who were followed for five years, the study found that children who were uninsured had a 26 percent higher risk of cancer death than those who were privately insured at diagnosis; the risk for those with Medicaid was similar to those with private insurance.

Dr. Ojha serves as Director for the JPS Health Network’s Center for Outcomes Research in Fort Worth, working toward improved patient outcomes in treatment and prevention of cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, and maternal/child health.


Posted Date: October 2, 2017

Patrick CrowleyCollaboration between TCOM, the UNTHSC School of Public Health, the CDC and Tarrant County Public Health resulted in a research publication and presentation at a national meeting for student Patrick Crowley, TCOM class of 2018.

Crowley has been published in the Texas Journal of Public Health for his work with Dr. Thad Miller, Associate Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems, who leads UNTHSC’s role as one of 10 sites selected nationally for the CDC’s Tuberculosis Epidemiologic Studies Consortium (TBESC).

UNTHSC has served as a TBESC site since 2001, with a second 10-year funding commitment received for the project in 2011.

Crowley was matched with Dr. Miller through the TCOM summer research fellowship program in 2015 and spent six weeks collecting data on TB at Tarrant County Public Health.

“TB is considered to be a preventable disease, so if someone ends up at the health department with TB, it’s because somewhere along the way, there was a breakdown in the system,” Dr. Miller said. “Prevention efforts work very well, but still people get sick, so the question is, why and what can we do differently?”

Working under Dr. Miller’s guidance and in cooperation with Jeremy Gallups, RN, BSN, Tarrant County Public Health TB Division Manager, and Dr. George Samuel, UNTHSC Assistant Professor of Medicine and Tarrant County Public Health Pulmonary Medicine and Infectious Disease specialist, Crowley’s task as graduate research assistant was to personally interview TB patients to look for risk factors that might have been missed along the way.

Most patients were more than willing to share their records and information, Dr. Miller said, and the resulting presentations on Crowley’s work demonstrated that personal interviews could be an important research tool to aid in TB prevention.

Since then, Crowley has shared his research at UNT Health Science Center’s Research Appreciation Day and was invited to Atlanta to speak at a national CDC meeting.

The CDC Consortium is now exploring this methodology for future TB studies.

“It is very exciting to be able to contribute to the scientific progress toward TB elimination,” Crowley said. “As I talk to other medical students from around the state and across the country, I realize how fortunate UNTHSC students are to have so many great mentors and researchers from diverse fields to work with.”

A key element to making this effort work was the collaboration that began at UNTHSC, extended into the community and has now moved onto a broader scope with the CDC.

“It’s a great win-win and a perfect example of what can be accomplished when we all work together as one team,” Dr. Miller said.

Posted Date: September 27, 2017

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Incoming School of Public Health graduate students participated in their first Interprofessional Education and Practice (IPE) event of the year to discuss the summer’s common reading exercise for Saving Gotham: A Billionaire Mayor, Activist Doctors, and the Fight for Eight Million Lives, the bestselling book that tells the tale of how New York City launched one of the country’s most important and controversial public health campaigns in 2002.

Saving GothamWith the help of then mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city’s new health commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden ambitiously tackled smoking in bars, outlawed trans fats in restaurants and lobbied to set limits on the size of soda, among other groundbreaking actions toward healthier eating and lifestyle.

While the initiatives drew criticism, by 2011 the results were clear: 450,000 people had quit smoking, childhood obesity rates were falling, and life expectancy was growing.

Saving GothamLessons from the book were used to provide students in this IPE exercise with an example of the broad, defining principles of public health and the different pros and cons involved in leading a city to positive public health outcomes.

Students worked in groups with SPH faculty and staff to identify how different influences can contribute to or challenge public health initiatives. Second-year SPH graduate students also served as event co-facilitators, using their experiences from 2016-17 IPE activities to help inform the roundtable conversations.

IPE provides an opportunity for students to work together in a collaborative setting as they learn from real-world examples and case studies, sharing ideas, gaining perspective from others and outlining solutions for healthier communities.

In addition to the roles, responsibilities and abilities of public health and health administration professions, students in this exercise looked at the issues impacting collaboration among a diverse public when goals may not always be the same, funding may not be available and politics, special interests and personal values may differ.

“This showed me that public health is not a single issue,” said graduate research assistant Brandon Hoff, “and that collaboration is key as we step into this field.”

In the spring, the book’s author, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, who succeeded Dr. Frieden as health commissioner and continued the efforts to transform the city’s health, will Skype with SPH students and faculty to further discuss the book and its important takeaways.

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Posted Date: September 21, 2017

Shivani GoswamiPerhaps the main reason that UNT Health Science Center student Shivani Goswami was selected as this year’s Barbara Starfield Medical Scholar by the American Public Health Association (APHA) is because of her desire to build a better healthcare system.

As a future healthcare leader selected for this prestigious national honor, she will be involved in planning and assisting with Medical Section activities for the November APHA Annual Conference in Atlanta.

Seven years ago, Shivani found the road she wanted to take.

Interning as a clinical language assistant with autistic patients, she met 9-year-old Sarah.

Sarah suffered from complicated speech and motor impairments that intensified when she became nervous or excited.

The person that Shivani said she connected with was not a child labeled as autistic but a “bright-eyed young girl with a contagious smile,” individual in her own way.

The experience with Sarah and other children like her moved Shivani to want to learn more about the healthcare delivery system in order to change it.

“I wanted to have impact on what I saw as a very complex system with intricacies that sometimes lose sight of the fact that healthcare delivery is really about caring for people, and in this case, the children,” she said.

“As an intern, I was very limited in my capacity to help Sarah. It was a wonderful feeling to connect with her and make her laugh, but still needing knowledge and training, I couldn’t alleviate her complications or guide her health in the future,” she said.

“As I watched this child fight through challenges every day, I found myself drawn toward a Master’s in Health Administration, where I could develop as a leader and use my experience to manage and enhance the quality of healthcare programs in the future.”

On course now to complete her MHA in May 2018 from the UNTHSC School of Public Health, Shivani took her first leap into health leadership when she co-established a non-profit regional organization called Health Connect South five years ago. The organization, based in Georgia, builds collaborations among health leaders and innovators in the field to advance healthcare in the Southeast.

“Caring for a patient really involves an interdisciplinary focus and a values-based approach,” she said. “With a team of health professionals working together to cover every aspect of a patient’s needs, so much more can be addressed than when one person alone tries to make a difference.”

The UNTHSC public health program has helped Shivani broaden this idea beyond inpatient care services to “communities of care” that partner the patient and family with clinicians and community services addressing nutrition and healthy food access, safe housing, transportation, literacy, employment, education, work training and job opportunities.

“A pediatrician once told me that absolute compassion with humility is the best service a physician can provide. I realized this is also true in public health,” Shivani said.

“To tell the health community what you are working on is easy, but to tell them that you need help involves the humility that can lead to groundbreaking collaborations for advancing healthcare and healthier lives at a faster pace.”

In her role as APHA’s Barbara Starfield Medical Care Scholar, Shivani will be involved in sessions and programs tackling solutions for healthcare challenges like these.

Posted Date: September 14, 2017
Brenner Harvey

Dr. Harvey Brenner

In a new American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) editorial, a UNT Health Science Center professor challenges a conventional research formula for measuring the health of populations, calling the method age discriminatory.

M. Harvey Brenner, PhD, Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems at the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health, said he was prompted to respond to recently published data ranking cancer as a higher health concern than heart disease, based on Years of Life Lost (YLL) comparisons of the years 1995-2015.

The commonly applied YLL formula estimates an average number of years a person would have lived if he or she had not died prematurely, due to certain causes. YLL is used in public health planning to compare the relative importance of different causes of premature deaths within a given population, to set priorities for prevention and compare premature mortality data between populations.

“On the basis of YLL, cancer is now being ranked as a more prominent cause of death than heart disease in the United States,” Dr. Brenner said. “However, heart disease should be logically viewed in conjunction with stroke, also a cardiovascular disease, and with the underlying components of the disease, including hypertension and arteriosclerosis.”

With YLL, a greater weight is correlated to deaths occurring at a younger age.

“Because heart disease impacts older individuals to a greater degree,” Dr. Brenner said, “YLL ranks it lower than other causes of death affecting younger adults with more potential years of life left. Not only does this minimize the health needs of the United States’ growing aging population, it could also greatly impact future health policy decisions related to funding and resources for medical and preventive care to older populations.”

“According to the YLL metric, a 50-year-old person is less worthy than a 35-year-old person, who is less worthy than a 25-year-old person and so on. The formula profoundly discriminates, without consideration of the value and experience of older adults who are still productive and contributing to society, the workplace and the economy in general, and in terms of the knowledge and experience they offer,” he said.

Because the formula is only based on current productivity, it may also discriminate against disabled populations among other groups than the elderly.

The aging Baby Boomer population and continued steady rise in the life span of older adults suggest the need to adjust the YLL model to more realistically address discrimination in older and disabled populations, Dr. Brenner said.


Posted Date: September 7, 2017
Mandy Burton

Dr. Jackson (left) and Dr. Ojha (right) with new members of the team from UNTHSC: Mandy Burton, MPH, data analyst; Tzu-Chun Chu, MS, MPH, data analyst; Yan Lu, MPH, epidemiologist; and Kari Teigen, MPH, epidemiologist.

A team of UNTHSC public health graduates is working toward improved patient outcomes in treatment and prevention of cancer, diabetes, infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C, and maternal/child health.

Rohit Ojha, DrPH (SPH ’10), was recruited last year to establish the new JPS Health Network’s Center for Outcomes Research (COR) and serve as Director.

Along with biostatistician Bradford Jackson, PhD (SPH ’12), and a team of research faculty and staff – including four new SPH graduates who were recently hired  in data analyst and epidemiologist positions – they are studying 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.

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston and working as research faculty in the Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Dr. Ojha saw the opportunity to return to Tarrant County as a chance to make a difference in the community’s health.

“By looking at health disparities related to socioeconomic status and other challenges in access to care, we hope to identify factors where we can intervene to reduce disparities in the outcomes of diseases,” Dr. Ojha said.

Working with Tarrant County Public Health and Cook Children’s Medical Center, the COR team also collaborates with UNTHSC and is developing an internship program for epidemiology and biostatistics graduate students.

Dr. Jackson, who previously worked on cancer, chronic disease, radiology projects and clinical trials as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Preventive Medicine, calls his role with JPS “a bit of detective work.”

“It’s common for biostatisticians and epidemiologists to wear many hats. My task is to be both consultant and data analyst, to uncover gaps and find answers to questions,” he said. “The research path can identify where certain population groups are not being reached effectively and potentially lead us to new programs and processes for improving care.”

Both Jackson and Ojha feel that the best advice they can offer students planning a career in public health, health research and health care professions is to get as much experience as possible while still in school.

“One thing that worked for me was taking initiative. I tried to get involved in as much as I could. I was fortunate to participate in the design and analysis of diverse studies as a student, which continues to impact my work today,” Dr. Ojha said.

“The million dollar question of what you want to do after you graduate is a difficult one to answer,” Dr. Jackson said. “To better inform your decision, get as much hands-on experience as you can; assisting faculty in their research will provide you with valuable insight. Keep an open mind and learn as much as you can.”

Posted Date: September 5, 2017

Lilly RamphalThe UNTHSC School of Public Health was in its infancy when Lilly Ramphal-Naley, MD, MPH, joined as adjunct faculty in 2000.

The School had been officially founded just one year before, and plans were underway toward accreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health, which would come in 2002.

As the SPH has continued to grow from those early days on, Dr. Ramphal-Naley has been a constant, teaching and mentoring, actively participating in faculty affairs, serving on advisory boards, developing courses, adapting instruction for online learning and supervising student practice experiences in the field.

In 2014, she created an international SPH student scholarship fund, donating her adjunct stipend each semester as a pledge to the program.

She was inspired, she said, to help “young minds find solutions to global issues like health care access, safe/healthy food and water, isolation of changing or emerging infectious diseases and other major public health issues that need attention.”

“Hopefully, the big world projects and challenges that our students are taking on can be translated back into ways they can help their own native countries and our world in the future,” she said.

In recognition of her longtime commitment to serving others first, Dr. Ramphal-Naley was recently honored at a reception by SPH faculty and staff.

“Over the years that I worked with Lilly in the Environmental and Occupational Health program, I came to consider her as full time faculty,” said professor David Sterling, PhD.  “Her teaching and service alone are not what have made her unique as an adjunct, or a reason for honoring her. It is the dedication and passion she has put into this very part time work.”

SPH Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD, said that another important aspect of Dr. Ramphal-Naley’s contributions has been “the wealth of ‘real world’ public health experience she’s brought to her teaching.”

During her career, she has held Medical Director positions for health care organizations like Baylor Garland and Cook Children’s Medical Center, and most recently her work as Medical Director for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has focused on population medicine for large employer accounts like American Airlines, Phillips Gas and Boeing.

Dr. Ramphal-Naley is a Fellow of the American College of Environmental and Occupational Medicine. She trained as an internal medicine physician at Rutgers University, completed a residency in occupational medicine and obtained a master’s degree in public health from the University of Minnesota.

“As a physician, she well understands public health and population health and has been in key positions to promote public health in multiple areas, from health surveillance to health management and policy. Over the years, she has been both a supporter and a contributor to the success of the SPH and our students,” Dr. Thombs said.