School of Public Health

SPH news

Posted Date: March 7, 2018

By Sally Crocker

United Way logo

 

Assessment to Help Determine Priorities and Funding Allocations in the Community

United Way of Tarrant County has selected UNTHSC to conduct a comprehensive community needs assessment to uncover the most pressing social issues affecting the health and prosperity of the Tarrant County population.

This project will be led by researchers from UNTHSC’s School of Public Health (SPH) under the guidance of Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer, Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity.

The research leadership team will include Danielle Rohr, MS, serving as Project Director, and Dr. Karen Bell, Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems.

The community needs assessment is part of United Way of Tarrant County’s new strategic plan.

The results of the assessment, which will include in-depth, one-on-one interviews and focus groups with local leaders, civic representatives and citizens, will allow United Way of Tarrant County to determine priorities and future funding allocations to not only address the issues but to determine the root causes and solve them.

“This research will help us discover prominent issues that are having profound effects on the community and citizens’ health and prosperity,” said TD Smyers, President and CEO of United Way of Tarrant County. “We are proud to partner with UNT Health Science Center.”

The project is made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Sid Richardson Foundation. The foundation has focused their distribution of major grants to organizations that are dedicated to improving Texas communities. Findings from the assessment are expected in the fall of 2018.

“We are committed to engaging with the community through education, collaboration and research, to help address issues impacting the health and well-being of Tarrant County residents,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, SPH Dean. “The research team brings extensive experience in community needs assessments and projects of this type, and the information to be discovered should be important in guiding future solutions for Tarrant County.”

United Way of Tarrant County has worked to improve the lives of those in the community for more than 95 years. Each year, United Way helps more than 300,000 people through its resources.

 

Posted Date: February 26, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Deepak PrabhakarDeepak Prabhakar, MD, MPH (Epidemiology), graduated from the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH) in 2006 and now serves as Director of Psychiatric Education at Henry Ford Health System, Detroit.

He is also Training Director for the Psychiatry Residency Program at Henry Ford Hospital/ Wayne State University and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

As current President of the Michigan Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Prabhakar says that his education and later work experience at UNTHSC continue to influence all aspects of his work today.

“It was during courses like Intermediate and Advanced Epidemiology that certain principles of research were clearly laid out, principles that I continue to use not only in my work now but also while teaching my own classes,” he explained.

“At UNTHSC, I was also fortunate to work as a teaching assistant with wonderful professors and mentors,” he said. “This experience was especially helpful, as it set the foundation for some of the principles of adult learning that I have been using since. The valuable research experience I gained working on a major NIH-funded study, Cancer Risk in Workers Exposed to Oncogenic Viruses, related to lung cancer risk among workers in the meat and poultry industry, not only prepared me for the research I have been doing since, but also gave me a rare opportunity to interact with individuals across different parts of the country.”

Dr. Prabhakar’s initial role in the study was to conduct personal interviews consisting of about 250 questions each.

“As challenging as that might sound,” he said, “it was heartening to see that people really wanted to give their time and participate to help influence outcomes related to an industry in which their near and dear ones had spent their whole life working. It should come as no surprise that the ability to be patient while actively listening has helped me tremendously in the clinical realm ever since.”

During his time at UNTHSC, Dr. Prabhakar also worked as project lead on the North Texas Mental Health Transformation Initiative, involving local community health networks, criminal justice and county officials in a comprehensive assessment to identify the mental health needs and service gaps across a seven-county region of North Texas.

This work led to publication of the first Epidemiologic Profile of Mental Health for North Texas and was later profiled as a “best case” in Community Quality-of-Life Indicators, published by the International Society of Quality-of-Life Studies.

Dr. Prabhakar’s work now is even more far-reaching as he addresses suicide, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. that is at its highest point in the last 30 years.

He is currently involved in NIH-funded research investigating the risk association between suicide and non-psychiatric factors, such as medical conditions.

“Traditionally, most interventions have focused on improving suicide-related outcomes in specialty psychiatric settings; however, most patients who attempt or die by suicide never receive psychiatric care, making it important to study and implement prevention strategies in general health care settings,” he said.

In all of his roles today – researcher, state leader, professor, mentor, advocacy and change agent in the areas of mental health and psychiatric education – Dr. Prabhakar says he is happiest and feels most fulfilled when he sees “patients getting better, families getting much needed resources, and medical students and residents learning the art and science of medicine.”

“It’s key that we switch every now and then from an individualized care approach and wear the public health hat to inform outcomes at the group level,” he said. “My state leadership role has allowed for advocacy on behalf of our patients who often don’t have a voice, and in my educational role at Henry Ford, it’s personally gratifying to teach and mentor the psychiatry workforce of tomorrow.”

In offering advice to current students in public health and medicine, Dr. Prabhakar said, “Seek mentorship early on, seek collaborative and learning opportunities across disciplines, and don’t discount the importance of lateral learning, or learning from your peers. Some of the most valuable lessons that I learned at UNTHSC and since then have come from my peers.”

Posted Date: February 21, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Carolyn Bradley Guidry nesbitt

Carolyn Bradley-Guidry (right) with Dr. Shawna Nesbitt

After leading the UT Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) Department of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies to national recognition with the Diversity Through Excellence Award from the Physician Assistant Education Association Education last fall, UNTHSC School of Public Health DrPH student Carolyn Bradley-Guidry, MPAS, PA-C, CPH, has now been honored with Dr. Shawna Nesbitt for the 2017 Outstanding Physician-PA Partnership of the Year Award from the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants.

Bradley-Guidry is an Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies in the UTSW School of Health Professions as well as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the entire UTSW School of Health Professions, which includes PA Studies, Physical Therapy, Clinical Nutrition, Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling, Radiation Therapy and Prosthetics/Orthotics. Dr. Nesbitt serves as Professor of Internal Medicine and Associate Dean for Student Diversity and Inclusion at UTSW.

The partnership between Bradley-Guidry and Dr. Nesbitt has two aspects, clinical and administrative.

Clinically, the two work together in the specialty Hypertension Clinic of the UT Southwestern Clinical Heart Center, focusing on managing medically-complex patients with resistant and/or secondary forms of hypertension.

Nominations from colleagues for this award highlighted that the PA-Physician Partnership between Bradley-Guidry and Dr. Nesbitt “exemplifies what a provider team should be.”

“They value and respect each other’s profession and role, they have provided professional service by sharing their knowledge of hypertension to providers in Texas, they work together to build diversity in both professions, and they provide service to the community. They are outstanding role models for the next generation of PAs and physicians,” the colleague wrote.

Another nomination said that their “positive impact on patients and families, as well as their diversity work at the UTSW Medical School and School of Health Professions” puts them in the “top 1% of all partnerships” the colleague had encountered.

“It is very exciting to see our students working to improve patients’ health and demonstrating such a commitment to diversity and inclusion in this way,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, UNTHSC School of Public Health Dean. “These partnerships and honors represent important strides aligning with the values of public health and creating healthier communities, and we congratulate Carolyn on her accomplishments.”

Bradley-Guidry plans to complete her DrPH degree from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2019.

Posted Date: February 16, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Sara ByrdMHA student Sara Byrd is looking forward to UNT Health Science Center graduation day for two very big reasons.

After crossing the stage in cap and gown at this spring’s commencement ceremonies, she will board a plane for Africa, to participate in a seven-day, 489-mile bike challenge, climbing over 48,000 feet through the hills of Rwanda to support medical and educational aid for villagers in the impoverished country of Burundi.

Byrd will ride to raise funds for the work of two humanitarian nonprofit organizations, Cornerstone Medical Clinic and Gitega International Academy.

Cornerstone is part of The Cries of a Child, which dedicates manpower and resources to help orphaned, abandoned and forgotten children.

Gitega, through its parent organization, Great Lakes Outreach (GLO), is focused on schools and educational programs for Burundi youth, to build a stronger future for the country and a better life for its people.

Sara-Byrd“Burundi is one of the most medically and educationally neglected areas of the world,” Byrd said. “I am completely self-funding my travel and other expenses because I believe so strongly in the mission of these organizations and the good work that they do. Through this fundraising challenge, I’m hoping to collect donations from others to help this country that is in such dire need.”

One hundred percent of donations made to Byrd’s effort will be split equally between both organizations, and there are several ways to get involved.

Byrd has a Facebook group called “Sara’s Ride, The African GLO Tour 2018,” as well as a GoFundMe page, and she is also selling T-shirts. More information on the T-shirts and delivery options can be found through her link.

“It’s also possible to directly write a check to these charities,” she said. “Any and all forms of assistance can really make a difference.”

For more information on how to support Byrd’s effort, or just to cheer her on, reach out at sara.byrd@my.unthsc.edu.

Posted Date: February 12, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Four UNTHSC School of Public Health graduates are helping to create healthier communities through their work in Fellowship programs assigned at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta.

While their responsibilities are varied and reach across different research, evaluation and health surveillance teams at the CDC, SPH graduates Amy Board, Jennifer Cole, Sandy-Asari Hogan and Brittany Marshall all agreed to share brief perspectives on their work and what led them to this stage in their careers, and to offer personal advice for current students preparing to enter the field of public health.

They represent different Fellowship programs, including ORISE (the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, U.S. Department of Energy); the ASPPH Fellowship Program through the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health; and the CDC Evaluation Fellowship Program.

CDC_Amy-BoardAmy Board, DrPH, MPH, MSW

  • ORISE Fellow for the HIV Incidence and Case Surveillance Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
  • Currently works on the Transmission and Molecular Epidemiology Team within the CDC’s HIV Incidence and Case Surveillance Branch. The team develops and improves approaches to detect and respond to clusters of recent and rapid HIV transmission within the U.S. Her role is to help evaluate the effectiveness and impact of these efforts.
  • Received her DrPH from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2017 and the MPH-Professional Option in 2013.
  • What she likes most about working in public health: “In public health, the community is your ‘patient,’ and the emphasis of your work is on preventing illness and disease. I love knowing that the work I do as a public health professional contributes to creating healthier communities and interrupting the spread of disease.”
  • How she got into the field: “I began my career in social work and spent four years with Catholic Charities Fort Worth in the Refugee Services Department. There I was exposed to many global health issues in both chronic and infectious diseases and realized that I wanted more training on how to make an impact on these health issues at a higher level. I had heard about UNTHSC and its 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.”
  • Advice for current students: “Take advantage of any opportunities you can while you’re in graduate school to gain practical, hands-on experiences in public health. There’s no substitute for actually going out and doing the things you learn about in your courses. I don’t think I would have considered a fellowship at the CDC if it hadn’t been for the hands-on CDC research projects I was involved in as a graduate student.”

CDC-students_ColeJennifer Cole, MPH, CPH

  • Through the ASPPH Fellowship Program, Cole is currently assigned within the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, Division of HIV AIDS Prevention, Prevention Communication Branch. In her role, she provides project officer support and technical assistance toward strategically creating and disseminating Act Against AIDS health messaging, mobilization and outreach activities. In addition to her project officer duties she serves as National Partnerships subject matter expert on two health communication campaigns- Let’s Stop HIV Together, an HIV awareness and stigma reduction campaign, and a youth HIV/STD sexual health campaign that is currently under development.
  • Received the MPH, Behavioral and Community Health, from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2014.
  • What she likes most about working in public health: “I enjoy working in public health because it keeps me on my toes. Things are constantly changing, with new information coming out that challenges me to learn and grow more in this field.”
  • How she got into the field: “I found my way into public health quite by accident. In undergraduate school, I was trying to find more opportunities to get involved on campus and saw a flyer about learning to be a volunteer health coach. I knew I liked people and was fascinated with health topics but didn’t know the right way to connect the two. It took me a few months of volunteering to realize I was involved in public health and that the people around me were public health professionals. From there, I allowed the story to write itself.”
  • Advice for current students: “Pursue and get involved in opportunities and experiences outside the classroom. Build relationships; your public health network can take you far if you cultivate it.”

CDC_Sandy-Asari-HoganSandy-Asari Hogan, DrPH, MPH, CHES, CPH

  • Within the CDC Evaluation Fellowship Program, Dr. Hogan is currently assigned to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Analysis, Research and Practice Integration, Program Integration and Evaluation Branch. In her primary assignment, she serves as a team evaluation officer for Core State Violence and Injury Prevention programs that focus on areas including child abuse and neglect, traumatic brain injury, motor vehicle crash injury and deaths, and intimate partner/sexual violence. She is also involved on teams addressing prescription drug and opioid-related deaths and other medication-assisted treatment.
  • Graduated from the UNTHSC School of Public Health with a DrPH in 2015 and MPH, Community Health, in 2010.
  • What she likes most about working in public health: “Public health is our best tool for improving the health of communities, building better health outcomes, mitigating disparities and promoting health equity for all.”
  • How she got into the field: “I initially wanted to pursue a career in public health because I always had a desire to help people. Public health is the best tool to improve the health of our communities. This field is more than just research, programs, interventions or the simple desire to provide help. It is the very thing that guides and governs our everyday lives, whether we are aware of it or not.”
  • Advice for current students: “Your graduate experience is your own and it will be what you make it. There will be things that challenge you, but even with your greatest challenges, there will be opportunities. Don’t rely solely on the information you get from your textbooks and in-class exercises – experience really is your best teacher. Take advantage of the opportunities to work with and learn from faculty, and pursue opportunities outside the university that align with your interests. Build those networks and strengthen those relationships, and always remember to be your own advocate!”

CDC_Brittany-MarshallBrittany Marshall, DrPH, CPH, CHES

  • Through the CDC Evaluation Fellowship Program, Dr. Marshall is currently assigned to the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Prevention Research Branch, whose mission is to conduct behavioral and operational public health research and demonstration projects to develop, test and synthesize sustainable interventions to prevent HIV transmission.
  • Her main role is to provide evaluation expertise to a three-year demonstration project (Project PrIDE) that supports state and local health departments in implementing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the use of HIV surveillance data to identify, engage and re-engage persons in HIV care (Data to Care). Project PrIDE prioritizes Black and Latino men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender persons to in order to address health equity in these populations.
  • Received her DrPH in Public Health Practice from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2016.
  • What she likes most about working in public health: “I love knowing that the work I’m doing is meaningful and will affect the lives of millions. Because public health is a helping profession, I also love that my work gives back on a daily basis.”
  • How she got into the field: “I often tell people that I found public health by accident. In undergraduate school, I was a pre-pharmacy major, and one day, while waiting to meet my supervisor, I picked up a book on public health. The following semester, I took an Introduction to Public Health course, immediately changed my major to Health Education and haven’t looked back.”
  • Advice for current students: “Use any and every opportunity that comes your way to get experience in the field and network. Yes, it’s important to have excellent grades, but the tangible experience and relationships you build with others in public health are what will get you the job after you cross the stage with your diploma.”

 

Posted Date: February 7, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Marcy-Paul_IsraelDr. Marcy Paul has spent a lifetime following the teachings of Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept of “repairing the world.”

The foundations of Dr. Paul’s work in public health today, and her belief that every person has a responsibility to make the world better, have deep roots back to the convictions of her family, faith and upbringing.

As Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems in the UNTHSC School of Public Health, Dr. Paul’s research and teaching is focused on social justice, health equity and improving quality of life in maternal and child health as a means of building healthier communities for current and future generations.

Her research in these areas, which began locally in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, extended in recent years to a larger, global perspective through connections with Israel and now a new appointment to co-chair a U.S. Academic Task Force on women in multicultural communities as the fabric for strengthening overall community health.

Through the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Western Galilee Central Area Partnership Consortium, Dr. Paul will serve as co-chair in this new position with Dr. Janan Faraj Falah, Professor and Chair of Gender Studies at the Arab Academic College of Education in Israel.

The two first met when Dr. Paul was invited to speak to a class of future teachers at the college, and in addition to working on research projects since, they have also developed a close family friendship.

“What started out as a one-time class lecture turned into a larger experience for all of us,” Dr. Paul said. “My topic involved the use of Photovoice as a participatory, community-based research method of capturing people’s perceptions of their environment and assessing community needs, and as we talked, even with my rather limited Hebrew, I could tell that the students were very excited about the ideas. I gave them an impromptu Photovoice assignment of their own, along with my email address, so we could continue the conversation once I returned home.”

Since then, Dr. Paul has conducted research with multicultural Israeli populations in Western Galilee, connecting with the community’s largest government medical center and groups like “Women Cooking a Dialogue” in the Mateh Asher region, where Christians, Arabs, Bedouins, Muslims, Druze and Jewish Israelis all live and work together for a healthier environment and healthier families.

In March, she and Dr. Faraj Falah will travel to an international conference in Budapest, Hungary, to speak on the role of women in multicultural societies.

“The mutual understanding gained when communities move beyond differences to get to know each other and work together can greatly impact health and quality of life,” Dr. Paul said. “In being able to facilitate discussions on this through my research, I feel that my work in public health is bringing me back full circle to the tenets of Tikkun Olam, of repairing the world.”

Marcy-Paul_Israel

Dr. Paul (right) with Dr. Janan Faraj Falah (left) and Danit Borenstein, facilitator of “Cooking a Dialogue”

Posted Date: January 26, 2018

By Sally Crocker

Carolyn-BradleyUNTHSC DrPH student Carolyn Bradley-Guidry, MPAS, PA-C, CPH has built a portfolio of service and citizenship in the area of diversity and inclusion. She serves as Assistant Professor in the UT Southwestern (UTSW) Department of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies.

Her passion for this work culminated in her appointment as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the UTSW PA program in 2015.

Her success in this role resulted in recognition at the 2017 annual Physician Assistant Education Association Education Forum in Denver, where the program was awarded the Diversity Through Excellence Award.

One of the many contributions to the UTSW PA program was the development of the program’s vision statement “to become a destination PA program for disadvantaged and underrepresented faculty, staff and students, while achieving and maintaining excellent outcome measures.”

Achievements such as these, in conjunction with her passion and vision for a diverse healthcare workforce and healthcare equity, provided the foundation for her recent promotion to Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the entire UTSW School of Health Professions.

In this new role, Bradley-Guidry’s efforts will focus on increasing diversity and inclusion among the faculty, staff and students in all six of the educational programs housed within the UTSW School of Health Professions – Physician Assistant Studies, Physical Therapy, Clinical Nutrition, Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling, Radiation Therapy and Prosthetics/Orthotics.

Bradley-Guidry credits her educational training in the DrPH program with enhancing her leadership and advocacy skills.

She plans to complete her DrPH degree from the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2019.

Posted Date: January 23, 2018

By Sally Crocker

>Abby WinsteadPublic health student Abby Winstead made her first trip to Haiti on a ministry mission seven years ago, and when she graduates from UNT Health Science Center this spring, she will take on a full time position there to continue serving families in need.

Winstead will manage maternal and child health programming for the non-profit organization But God Ministries, which provides support through housing, education, economic development and programs addressing spirituality, medical and dental health, safe water, agriculture and nutrition.

“I fell in love with the people and the country the first time I visited,” she said. “Earthquakes, homelessness, poverty and limited access to food, clean water and sanitation have all pushed the country to the verge of collapse. But while the world might see a list of heartbreaking statistics, I see people who have managed to preserve an astounding sense of hope and pride in the face of unimaginable adversity.”

In her new role, Winstead will focus on outpatient malnutrition and programs for improving maternal and child health. Hygiene, reproductive health, breastfeeding and motherhood classes will be an important part of her responsibilities, as well as health promotion in schools.

Abby Winstead“The MPH I’m earning in Maternal and Child Health, coupled with my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology, have been key in preparing me for this position, to be able to work alongside medical providers and make a difference in community health directly and at an individual level,” she said.

Her experience with the organization over two summer internships and 12 other weeklong trips has also provided valuable preparation.

Over the years, Winstead has worked in medical and dental clinics, assisted with the transition to electronic medical records and pharmacy systems processing, built houses, partnered with Haitian staff in their responsibilities, paired children with U.S. educational sponsors, and invested in irreplaceable friendships.

Abby Winstead“I’ve helped deliver children in our clinic, and I’ve watched them grow. I’ve served alongside our Haitian staff in cooking and cleaning, because this is a partnership in my mind. Sometimes my job means going outside our gate and playing with the children and investing in young teenagers. Those are the moments I cherish the most,” she said.

The most exciting part of Winstead’s work has been that the needs and her responsibilities are continually evolving. The ultimate goal is to create sustainable support systems to help break the cycle of poverty and teach healthy behaviors that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

“Though it takes much more than small steps to alter the course of a village, it all starts somewhere, and the impact on these people’s lives is clear,” she said. “Though I’m not yet fluent in Creole, I feel a strong bond with these people that goes beyond words. I’m anxious and excited to see where this next chapter will lead as we work side by side toward a healthier Haiti.”

Posted Date: January 16, 2018

By Sally Crocker

new faculty research

Drs. Litt, Mun, Lewis and Thompson

UNT Health Science Center is poised to take on an expanded leadership role in public health education and research with the appointment of three nationally recognized alcohol and substance abuse researchers and an early-career faculty researcher focused on women’s and children’s health.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Melissa A. Lewis, Dr. Dana M. Litt, Dr. Eun-Young Mun and Dr. Erika L. Thompson to the SPH faculty,” said Dr. Dennis L. Thombs, Dean. “These new colleagues represent our commitment to building on our academic reputation and continuing to strengthen our research addressing critical public health issues of national scope.”

Drs. Lewis and Litt join UNTHSC from the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Mun comes to UNTHSC from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick, where she served as a tenured professor in the school’s Center of Alcohol Studies and Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. Dr. Thompson joins UNTHSC from the University of South Florida, College of Public Health.  Their UNTHSC appointments are in the SPH Department of Health Behavior and Health Systems.

Drs. Lewis, Litt and Mun are currently leading or consulting on National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded projects on alcohol misuse among young adults, sexual risk taking, college sexual victimization risk and HIV, and prescription opiates and drug abuse.

Dr. Lewis is nationally recognized for her research on risky sexual behavior and alcohol use among adolescents and young adults. Her research has been funded by grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, and the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation. She has authored more than 90 peer-reviewed publications, many of which appear in top-tier addictions journals.

Dr. Litt has been funded through NIAAA for studies on alcohol use among young adults, social media impact on drinking norms among adolescents, alcohol-related risk interventions and ways to motivate campus change. She has authored 26 peer-reviewed journal articles and four book chapters on health behaviors, alcohol, sexual risk taking and adolescent marijuana use and abuse.

Dr. Mun is a nationally recognized expert in using “big data” to design and analyze alcohol intervention trials. Her current R01 research project is designed to utilize data more efficiently and meaningfully to guide health recommendations. Her research has been continuously supported by NIH since 2010, and she was recognized last year as having one of the most exciting new projects funded by NIH at the Inaugural NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival. She has authored more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles, 14 book chapters and three advanced textbooks.

Dr. Thompson has been involved in maternal and child health research projects related to sexual and reproductive health issues, women’s health issues and human papillomavirus prevention. She has authored 36 peer-reviewed publications in public health and health behavior journals. She is Chair of the Education and Mentoring Committee of the Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health.

Posted Date: January 10, 2018

By Sally Crocker

mChat-photoIn 2012, a group of UNTHSC faculty were approached with a unique opportunity. Millions of dollars had suddenly become available through Medicaid to fund innovative health care delivery projects for low-income and uninsured patients. The catch? Funding was performance-based, awarded as successful progress was proven. The Health Science Center could lose money if the projects did not meet their goals.

Dr. Scott Walters, UNTHSC Professor and Chair of Health Behavior and Health Systems in the School of Public Health, was asked to design a project focused on behavioral health.

“This was really unlike a traditional grant where the funder thinks you have a good idea and gives you money to conduct the project,” he said. “Not only did UNTHSC front millions of dollars, but it also had to take the risk that the projects would go well. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before.”

“I pay more attention to my health now. I stopped smoking and started exercising. Every morning, I would get a text reminder to take my medication and go for a walk, and that kept me motivated. I had been eating a lot of junk food at night, but the reminders made me think twice about reaching for cookies, so I would get a piece of fruit instead. Now I feel like I can continue on my own.”Sidney Taylor

In partnership with Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer, UNTHSC School of Public Health Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity, Dr. Walters’ team designed m.chat, a technology-assisted health coaching program for people residing in permanent supportive housing (PSH) in Fort Worth. About 75% of PSH residents have a chronic health condition; two thirds have active substance use, and more than half have active mental health symptoms. PSH residents tend to have substantially higher health care costs compared to the general population. mChat photoThe m.chat program matched PSH residents with a health coach, who met with them monthly over 18 months to set goals around diet, exercise, substance use, medication compliance and other areas. The program’s special software and system for reminders helped clients stay motivated and track progress along the way. The project enrolled 653 clients over four years. Most people chose to work on diet (62%) and exercise (60%). About 41% wanted to make changes in substance use, and 26% wanted to improve their level of social support. The pace of the project and performance-based reimbursement pushed the team to constantly adapt to new challenges. “In our first year, part of the funding was tied to enrolling 300 people fitting a certain profile. In a typical project, if you are meeting 80 or 90% of your goal, that’s a success. Under the Waiver mechanism, though, we were required to meet the full 100%,” Dr. Walters said.

“Being able to stop smoking has been my biggest accomplishment. I had tried to quit before but was struggling. My coach didn’t judge me. I was able to be very honest with him, and it helped to have someone to talk to. I worked on meal planning and lost weight, and the text messages reminded me to go walking twice a day. In the fall I started working on my associate’s degree online. I know I can do it now. Even if it gets hard, I don’t want to quit.” Sharon Simon

Despite many barriers to improving health, people who participated in m.chat showed substantial improvements: over 12 months, 23% increased their fruit and vegetable intake, 40% decreased sweet intake, and 49% decreased fat intake. People who set a goal to improve physical activity had far less sitting time and far more activity over 12 months, nearly doubling their number of active minutes per week. Depression scores went down by one-third, and more than one-third of substance abusers quit. “The unique impact of m.chat was in the way it addressed a broad range of behaviors affecting people’s health,” Dr. Walters said. “We demonstrated that people can improve their overall health, sometimes in more than one area, despite very difficult circumstances.” From a funding standpoint, the project was also a success, fully meeting its metrics each year. Projects like m.chat demonstrate UNTHSC’s ability to innovate quickly in response to a unique funding mechanism, resulting in win-win situations for the university and the community.

“Through different activities, I collected enough ‘Chat Bucks’ to buy things I couldn’t afford, like a mattress, groceries, laundry detergent. It makes you feel better about yourself and gives you something positive to look forward to”Pamela Wilson