New UB institute to address health disparities in Buffalo

health disparties.

BY DAVID J. HILL Republished from UBNow

Release date: December 12, 2019

In collaboration with the community, UB is focusing the expertise and passions of researchers and students from across the university on a major new effort to address one of the most pressing problems facing the city of Buffalo: health disparities among people who live on the city’s East Side.

The university today announced the launch of the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, a center that will conduct research that addresses the root causes of these health disparities, while developing and testing innovative solutions to eliminate health inequities in the region.  

The vision of the institute is to ensure that wellness and social well-being become a reality for all people in Buffalo, including people of color residing in underserved neighborhoods and who are more likely to have serious, chronic and often preventable diseases, as well as significantly higher mortality rates.

Faculty researchers and students from 10 UB schools will collaborate within the institute.

“The Community Health Equity Research Institute exemplifies UB’s longstanding commitment to engage with our local partners to build a healthier, stronger, more prosperous region,” President Satish K. Tripathi said. “We have founded this institute on principles of social justice that our university community hold dear — specifically, the belief that all of our neighbors across all neighborhoods deserve the right to a bright, healthy future.”

The new UB institute builds on the work of the community-wide African American Health Equity Task Force formed in 2014 in response to the striking health disparities experienced by African Americans in Buffalo, particularly in the East Side zip codes of 14204, 14206, 14211, 14212 and 14215.

The task force is a coalition that includes UB, Cicatelli Associates Inc., Concerned Clergy of WNY, Erie County Medical Center, Millennium Collaborative Care, NeuWater & Associates, the Population Health Collaborative of WNY and other community groups and community members.

“I know in the communities I represent poor health care continues to be a major issue for many of the residents who live there,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

“We know that some of the root causes for poor health among many African American communities are lack of access to health care, lack of healthy food options, environmental pollution, poor housing, lack of exercise and unemployment, among others,” Peoples-Stokes added.

“Thanks to the new UB Community Health Equity Research Institute and the hard work of the African American Health Equity Task Force, we’re now taking some real action in addressing these issues in our most underserved communities. All residents deserve the chance to lead healthy and happy lives. The UB Community Health Equity Research Institute is a major step toward health equity for all residents.”

Good health, well-being in not shared equally

African Americans living in the city’s East Side experience higher rates of poverty and suffer from higher rates of lung cancer and infant mortality in addition to increased risks of hospitalization for heart failure and diabetes compared to the white population, according to the 2017-19 Erie County New York Community Health Assessment by the Erie County Department of Health.

In addition, 3 in 5 African Americans living in Buffalo die prematurely, twice the rate of whites.

Much of this health inequity is caused by social determinants: high unemployment, underdeveloped neighborhoods, absence of grocery stores and poor access to health care, among others.

By uniting UB researchers who possess a broad range of expertise — from medicine and public health to law and management — the institute aims to negate the effects of decades of federal and local policies that have created racial, residential and educational segregation and disinvestment in communities of color.

This interprofessional community of faculty, students and community partners will perform research that employs a community participatory research model to inform regional health and social policy. This model engages the community by allowing residents to drive the research agenda and participate in the design of the research and the studies conducted.

“This is a historical moment, for not only the University at Buffalo but for the community,” said George F. Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church and convener of the African American Health Equity Task Force.

“The issues of health disparities are caused by the social determinants of health, which are rooted in generations of racial oppression beginning with the enslavement of African people and continuing now in uneven distribution of resources and public policy,” Nicholas added.

“I am encouraged that the university, under the leadership of President Tripathi, is willing to be bold in engaging in problem-solving with the goal of bringing health equity for all in this region. This goal can only be attained with the major contributions by this multidisciplinary institute working in close collaboration with other community partners.”

Harnessing the power of faculty and students

The institute will be comprised of faculty and students from the following UB schools: Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Nursing, Public Health and Health Professions, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Social Work, Architecture and Planning, Law, Management, the Graduate School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences. It will also leverage the expertise and resources of UB’s Community for Global Health Equity, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Office of Research Advancement.

“With the launch of the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, we’re further developing a strategic plan to address the health disparities that exist on Buffalo’s East Side and among African American and poverty-stricken populations,” said State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy.

“I commend President Tripathi for dedicating significant resources to this endeavor, and thank the UB educators and students who will help shape this important conversation and identify comprehensive, long-term solutions that will improve wellness and city-wide health outcomes,” Kennedy said.

Timothy Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research in the Jacobs School, will lead the institute. He is also director of UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

Leadership will also include the following associate directors: Susan Grinslade, clinical professor, School of Nursing; Henry Louis Taylor Jr., professor of urban and regional planning and director of the Center for Urban Studies, School of Architecture and Planning; and Heather Orom, associate professor of community health and health behavior, and associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, School of Public Health and Health Professions.

The institute will also name a research administrator and a steering committee that will meet monthly to guide strategic priorities.

“We’re pioneering some unique and innovative approaches to medical research and health care in Buffalo,” Murphy said. “With the talent and expertise at UB and other local institutions, we have the opportunity to become a national leader in developing solutions to health inequities.”

Three key goals will guide the center’s work:

  • Facilitating and expanding multidisciplinary research focused on health disparities and health equity in the Buffalo area.
  • Providing training opportunities to students and community members interested in pursuing careers in transdisciplinary research on health disparities.
  • Partnering with the community, including the Buffalo Center for Health Equity, to align the research with the region’s needs.

“As we continue our work to make the city of Buffalo a place of inclusion and opportunity for all, it is essential that all our residents have access to the health care and health tools necessary to achieve the healthy lifestyle they deserve,” Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said.

“This new initiative, which will include UB staff and students, as well as numerous nonprofit, neighborhood and church organizations, will help us develop and deliver innovative health solutions to our most underserved residents, especially those who live on Buffalo’s East Side,” Brown added.

Funding for the center’s research will come from a variety of sources, with a heavy focus on National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants. The center aligns closely with NIH’s funding priorities, which include health disparities research.

The work of the institute will build upon several new and ongoing grant-funded projects underway at UB focused on improving health and access to health care in Buffalo. The projects include:

  • A maternal smoking cessation program that educates mothers about the risks of smoking during pregnancy, while giving them tools to quit, which is led by Xiaozhong Wen, associate professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School.
  • study led by Kathleen Tornatore, professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, exploring the effects of age, race and sex on immunosuppressive medication and immune responses of renal transplant patients.
  •  “Health in the Neighborhood,” a new course in the Jacobs School that aims to educate students about why healthy disparities develop and how people in the community are impacted by these inequities.
  • The UB Veggie Van study in which researchers from the School of Public Health and Health Professions and the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab in the School of Architecture and Planning are helping nine partner organizations to start or expand their mobile produce markets.

Launch of the Community Health Equity Research Institute is an example of UB’s ongoing efforts to deepen its impact and outreach in the many communities it serves. The institute’s objectives are aligned with the strategic goals of the university focused on providing students with transformative, innovative and research-grounded educational experiences; promoting a university-wide culture of equity and inclusion; deepening the university’s engagement with the community; and achieving greater societal impact locally and globally

global goals.

Sustainable Development Goals:

3. Good health and well-being: Ensuring healthy and happy lifestyles for all ages

10. Reduced inequalities: Reducing inequalities found within the community