Published April 27, 2021
The University at Buffalo’s Community Health Equity Research Institute continues to develop innovative solutions to address health disparities in Buffalo’s African American community.
“The goal of the institute is to transform the way that UB researchers conduct research,” says Timothy F. Murphy, MD, director of the institute and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research. “We want our researchers to take a participatory community approach, to bring community groups into the conversation to guide the direction of research from the very beginning instead of formulating an idea and then connecting with the community.”
Murphy says the website will function as a major conduit for that change.
“This website will provide a critical link, connecting researchers and community groups,” says Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine. “For example, if a community partner needs the expertise of the university for a project, it can request help through the website, and the institute can connect the group with a faculty collaborator who has the right expertise.”
“The site will also help researchers utilize community-based methods, such as holding focus groups in order to understand community perspectives and then to leverage that input for the best community outcomes,” he adds.
The site provides researchers with the resources they need so they can conduct meaningful scholarly work driven by community interests and priorities. It lists the institute’s nine local partners, which include the Buffalo Center for Health Equity, the Population Health Collaborative and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Western New York, among other influential organizations.
A key emphasis will be on multidisciplinary research throughout the university. To foster the institute’s multidisciplinary goals, all 11 of UB’s schools, plus the College of Arts and Sciences, are institute partners notes Leah A. Daniel, institute administrator.
“We want to engage our university researchers as broadly as possible,” Murphy says. “We want to attract talented people doing innovative work to begin to address the health inequities in our community.”
Services can be requested through the website by UB faculty, students or staff, or members of community groups, and include: assistance in identifying potential collaborators, community partners, specific populations in the community and appropriate, and targeted funding opportunities.
“The message to the community is ‘hey, UB is all in on this,’” says Murphy, who is also director of UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). “UB has made a huge university commitment to this, supported by the highest levels of the administration. We are committed to working with — and for — our community.”
He explains that the website will function as a community resource, a “go-to” site that brings together all the groups that are making significant contributions to the community.
“Members of the community are welcome on this site, so they will have an opportunity to see what the institute is doing. It will function as a community resource,” Daniel says.
That community-facing orientation goes back to the CTSI’s roots, Murphy says. He notes that the $15 million National Institutes of Health grant to UB and its partners back in 2015 was the catalyst that eventually resulted in the Community Health Equity Research Institute.
“The CTSI partnered with community groups right from the time it was formed,” he says. “That partnership was a spark that got us all talking to each other, and the Community Health Equity Research Institute is building on that.”
The institute emerged out of collaborations between the CTSI and the drivers behind the African American Health Equity Task Force, notably:
The institute was established to address health inequities that primarily affect African Americans living in specific ZIP codes on the East Side of Buffalo, where Black residents die prematurely at a much higher rate than white people; experience higher rates of poverty, lung cancer and infant mortality; and are at increased risk of being hospitalized for chronic diseases like heart failure and diabetes.
Those inequities became even more evident in early 2020, when communities of color nationally and locally began to be devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The partnership between the task force and the Community Health Equity Research Institute was instrumental in partially mitigating the deadly impact of the pandemic in communities of color in Buffalo,” Murphy says.
The vision of the website was guided chiefly by contributions from three members of the institute’s Steering Committee: