NIH Awards UAlbany $10M To Fund Health Disparities Programs

Apr 28, 2016

The University at Albany has received a significant financial award to roll out a major public engagement initiative.

A $10 million federal grant to UAlbany is expected to be a real game-changer for the Capital Region and beyond.

The funding comes through the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The goal is to increase diversity of graduate students involved with health disparity problems, toward understanding and addressing healthcare disparities of minority and underserved communities across the Northeast.

James Dias is UAlbany's Vice President for Research:   "It's a very unusual grant. Normally, when the NIH makes a grant, you have a certain number of years to spend the money, and then the money goes away. In this grant, which creates an endowment, the money will be with the university for the life of the university."

UAlbany President Robert Jones issued a statement saying “The endowment revenue will allow us to fill the pipeline with a diverse group of researchers dedicated to closing these gaps by working across disciplines — and in collaboration with community health care providers.”

Jones was selected to be the initiative's co-principal investigator alongside Lawrence Schell, a UAlbany professor of anthropology, epidemiology and biostatisics.    "The award is specifically designed to generate revenue that will allow the university to recruit graduate students to work in any field, but to also obtain, in addition to the specialized training that they'll get in that field, knowledge about health disparities and how to apply their specialized knowledge to address health disparities and eliminate them eventually."

Schell adds the award encourages publicly engaged work.   "The center and its faculty and students work with community groups to identify health disparities, and then to find and match those problems with faculty with expertise in dealing with such things. And then together, they and the community group can work to create a program to reduce or alleviate the health disparities in that area. The endowment fund also will help the university to recruit faculty from underrepresented and minority groups to diversify the campus faculty more than it is already."

Dias notes the faculty will be able to leverage against the grant...   "...to obtain additional funding from the National Institutes of Health to do work in their own disciplinary areas: in the life sciences, social welfare and public health, three areas of strength in our university."

Communications, geography and planning would also be eligible for funding when used in evaluating health disparities.

Class of 2014 Research Assistant and Community Outreach Liaison Raven Profit says the grant opens doors for students with underserved backgrounds to pursue a PhD.   "As someone who has experienced barriers to health care in my own life, in foster care and through my family, it is extremely rewarding to be part of the solution to the problem of minority health disparities."

The grant project includes more than 20 "community partners" including the Albany City School District, the Albany County and New York State Health Departments, Centro Civico and Albany Medical Center.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan:   "We have significant challenges with health disparities, whether it's dental issues that children have in the city of Albany, to access to health care, and this is an opportunity for us to really partner with UAlbany and start to work on rectifying the health disparities that exist."

The university plans to deploy "community task forces" in Albany and Amsterdam.