As Kentucky struggles to overcome health risks such as obesity, physical inactivity, tobacco and drug use, as well as social factors like unemployment, poverty, and violence, the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS) is announcing a plan to address health disparities across the state. The school will establish the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, pending UofL Board of Trustees approval, with support via a three-year $4 million investment from KentuckyOne Health. The institute will serve as a transdisciplinary collaborative for population health improvement, policy and analytics.
“The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is redefining health and health care. Addressing Kentucky’s health issues in this climate requires a multi-level approach, and that is what we plan to accomplish through research, education and policy advocacy,” said Dean Craig Blakely.
“KentuckyOne has made it a priority to transform the health of the communities we serve with a special focus on vulnerable populations,” said Mr. Tom Walton, Director of Business Development for KentuckyOne Health Partners. “This has taken shape in number of innovative approaches to address the root causes of poor health. Access to information, employment, social services and health care all play critical roles in our community’s overall health. Investing in the Commonwealth Institute amplifies this commitment and takes us to a new level of sophistication in addressing health disparities through collaboration.”
The primary operations of the institute will include data warehousing and analytics, community-based research, health policy support and education. The initiative will bring together the resources of the Kentucky State Data Center along with their UofL staff and the Office of Health Policy in the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
By aligning these resources, the institute will be able to establish clinical, fiscal, and workforce related databases for the purpose of applied policy-relevant research. Analytics and research efforts in cooperation with community partners will identify new grants and contract opportunities that can advance efforts in alleviating disparities and improving health. The institute also will provide expertise in health decision-making, cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analyses of health initiatives, and overall health program evaluation.
Educational activities are expected to flow from the growing infrastructure with activities such as an expansion of health administration instruction, a community health worker training program, seminars on health-targeted topics, and new tracks in comparative effectiveness research and health policy under the school’s Clinical Research, Evaluation and Statistics Training (CREST) program.
Three initial projects are supported through this investment.
A team of SPHIS faculty and students, working closely with the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness, will develop and pilot creative new health literacy interventions in key neighborhoods. The interventions will be designed to teach newly insured residents how to use the health delivery system with the intent to provide those facing social and health disparities with relevant information to help them get the care they need. Armed with new resources and knowledge, the result could lead to improved health through smoking cessation, increased consumption of healthy foods, increased physical activity, identification of health issues at earlier stages, and improved ability of the community to manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and depression. A successful intervention of this nature could contribute to cost savings projected by the ACA, while ensuring a healthier community.
A second project will build on the work of the Louisville Metro Board of Health’s work to examine and improve the ACA rollout in Jefferson County by supporting a much more aggressive evaluation effort.
The third initiative will focus on at-risk youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and the enduring complications linked to violence. The institute will draw upon the university’s strengths, including a number of students, with a validated juvenile justice intervention model. This complements a KentuckyOne Health effort to address the enormous cost of violence through public policy advocacy, socially responsible investing and grassroots work.
All three projects will provide an initial vehicle to engage the resources of the University of Louisville and KentuckyOne Health. Infrastructure investments from KentuckyOne will allow the university to substantially build its in-house human capital. New personnel will include a director, big data analyst, biostatistician, health policy analyst, doctoral students, post-doctoral research associates, and administrative support staff. The institute also is expected to engage faculty from a number of units throughout the Health Sciences Center and Belknap campuses as well as other institutions across the commonwealth.
“New public health schools across the country have rapidly expanded their research engines through infrastructure investments like the one we are launching. Our goal is to seek additional support through grants and contracts to sustain the Institute over the long-term so that we can continue to improve the health of communities in Louisville, across the state, and beyond,” Dean Blakely said.