ASPPH logo


Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Drexel: Researcher Receives Award to Study Mental Health Issues linked to Hurricane Maria

Dr. Alex Ortega, professor and chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy in the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH), along with his team of DSPH and University of Puerto Rico investigators, was awarded a $3.2 million R01 grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study psychiatric and substance use disorders among island Puerto Ricans impacted by Hurricane Maria.

Dr. Ortega and his team will conduct a follow-up survey of 3,062 Puerto Ricans, ages 18-64 years, living on the island, as well as those who moved to the United States mainland after the hurricane. The study participants will be surveyed to assess psychiatric and substance use disorders one year before Maria hit the island, which will allow them to examine the longitudinal development and exacerbation of psychopathology before and after the disaster.

The study aims to estimate the change in prevalence of psychiatric and substance use disorders before and after the hurricane; understand the mechanisms that lead to increased psychopathology, including institutional response and recovery efforts and post-disaster stressors; identify the personal, family and neighborhood factors that lead to resilience among those who did not have psychopathology post-Hurricane Maria; and understand the effects of institutional response and recovery efforts on psychopathology across the eight health regions that vary in geography and levels of hurricane impact.

The research should contribute to the literature by not only examining the long-term associations between exposure to the hurricane and psychiatric disorders, but it will also examine how real and perceived institutional responses affect communities.