Murphy Leading Initiative to Root Out Health Disparities

Timothy F. Murphy, MD

Published January 13, 2020

Timothy F. Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine, is leading a major initiative addressing health disparities among people living on Buffalo’s East Side.

“We’re pioneering some unique and innovative approaches to medical research and health care in Buffalo. 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.”
Senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine
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Institute Tasked With Developing Solutions

The UB Community Health Equity Research Institute will conduct research that addresses the root causes of 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 who are more likely to have serious, chronic and often preventable diseases as well as significantly higher mortality rates.

“We’re pioneering some unique and innovative approaches to medical research and health care in Buffalo,” says Murphy, who is also director of UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “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.”

Collaborative Effort Involves 10 UB Schools

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. 

Faculty researchers and students from 10 UB schools will collaborate within the institute. In addition to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the institute will be comprised of faculty and students from the following UB schools: Architecture and Planning; Law; Management; Nursing; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Public Health and Health Professions; Social Work; the College of Arts and Sciences; and the Graduate School of Education.

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.

Focusing Attention on Buffalo’s East Side

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 Coalition of WNY, Erie County Medical Center, Millennium Collaborative Care, NeuWater & Associates LLC, the Population Health Collaborative and other community groups and community members.

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.

Community Residents Are Key Players

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 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.

Leadership will also include the following associate directors:

  • Susan Grinslade, PhD, RN, clinical professor, School of Nursing
  • Heather Orom, PhD, associate professor of community health and health behavior and associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, School of Public Health and Health Professions.
  • Henry Louis Taylor Jr., PhD, professor of urban and regional planning and director of the UB Center for Urban Studies, School of Architecture and Planning
  • Rita Hubbard-Robinson, JD, chief executive officer, NeuWater & Associates, LLC

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

Key Initiatives: Smoking Cessation, New Course

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, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics.
  • Health in the Neighborhood, a new course in the Jacobs School that aims to educate students about why health disparities develop and how people in the community are impacted by these inequities.  
  • A study led by Kathleen M. Tornatore, PharmD, professor of pharmacy practice 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.
  • 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.