Now Hear This

Tim Murphy speaking.

Buffalo’s leaders in the fight against racial health disparities take the mic at state public hearing.

The University at Buffalo’s Community Health Equity Research Institute was formed in December 2019 to put the full strength of UB’s research and innovation behind the fight to eliminate health disparities in Buffalo. The dire impact of COVID-19 on underserved communities has brought increased urgency to this effort. It has also brought the unique approach of the institute to the attention of state lawmakers.

Last May, Timothy Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and director of the institute, was invited to testify at a joint public hearing held by the New York State Senate and Assembly. The purpose was to explore solutions to the severe impact of COVID-19 on minority communities, through both policy initiatives and federal funding.

A complex issue

At the hearing, Murphy described how the UB institute involves faculty experts from all 12 schools at UB, working on a broad range of issues related to the social determinants of health. Those include education, housing, economic development, the environment and the legal system.

“The mission of the institute is to perform research to advance understanding of the root causes of health disparities and develop and test innovative solutions to eliminate health inequities in our region,” said Murphy.

A collaborative approach

Murphy also stressed the institute’s strong community orientation, noting that it grew out of a partnership with Buffalo’s African American Health Equity Task Force. He credited Pastor George Nicholas, co-convener of the task force, and his fellow activists, as a critical force in addressing health disparities in Buffalo. Pastor Nicholas also spoke at the hearing.

“Our main focus is to get us to think about these problems, and about the solutions to these problems, in a more holistic fashion,” said Nicholas in his testimony. Partnering with UB, he said, has allowed important conversations to take place about how to address the underlying causes of racial health disparities in the city and the region.

“The solutions to these systemic problems won’t occur overnight,” Murphy told lawmakers. “It will take creative approaches from people with diverse expertise, a broad range of capabilities, and big ideas. We need different approaches. We can’t keep doing the same things because they don’t work. We need generational changes.”