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BW launches Health Equity Research & Education Institute

The institute will focus on research, training and services to address health disparities in Northeast Ohio. 

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Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (right) leads a roundtable discussion on health disparities with regional healthcare leaders gathered at BW on Oct. 30.

Leaders from Greater Cleveland's premiere healthcare institutions and community organizations gathered with Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown at Baldwin Wallace University as BW introduced a new Health Equity Research & Education Institute.

Brown, who championed a $350,000 U.S. Department of Education grant as seed money to support the BW institute's work, said, "This center is going to focus on a pretty simple idea: everyone in Ohio should have good healthcare and the opportunity to live a healthy life. It shouldn't matter what your background or your race is, what neighborhood you live in, what your job is."

"BW has growing healthcare programs with some of the best certifying exam passage rates in Ohio. The University also supports health equity in the region through research and outreach," noted BW President Bob Helmer. "We are grateful to Sen. Brown for championing federal funding that will allow BW to address health disparities in even more meaningful ways while giving our students experiences that develop their research, caregiving and problem-solving skills."

Addressing critical needs

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The roundtable discussion focused on the dramatic disparities in health outcomes in Northeast Ohio, in spite of the region's stature as a vital healthcare hub.

According to Dr. Swagata Banik, dean of graduate studies & research and professor of public health and prevention science at BW, "Our minority communities experience shockingly high rates of health disparities in both infectious and chronic diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic not only shed light on the health inequities that have plagued marginalized communities for decades but also demonstrated how we can come together in new ways to care for our neighbors in crisis."

BW in the trenches

One notable example of existing BW work in this area is an AmeriCorps-funded program, now in its third year, that deploys student volunteers to connect community members experiencing food or health services insecurities to the resources and services they need.

That outreach program is in partnership with the MetroHealth Institute of H.O.P.E., Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation and MetroWest Community Development Organization. Another program aimed at food insecurity was supported by a CHANGE, InC grant by the American Public Health Association and Aetna Foundation.

BW also conducts NIH-funded research into health disparities and has hosted experts to dig into the root causes at a National Conference on LGBT Health, a symposium on Substance Abuse Prevention on College Campuses in collaboration with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and a symposium on Human Trafficking Prevention and Education. 

Looking to the future

The new Health Equity Research & Education Institute aims to build a robust multidisciplinary infrastructure for health equity-related data collection and program development.

Some of the federal seed grant, which runs through 2025, will fund micro-grants to support faculty and students engaged in community research, training and advocacy. Banik says there will also be a focus on the quick translation of health equity research findings in service of community programs and workforce development in Ohio.

BW and community partners plan to seek funding to expand and continue the life of the programs beyond 2025.

BW currently offers a range of undergraduate and graduate healthcare degree programs, including nursing, physician assistant, public health, speech communication disorders, psychology and a healthcare MBA.

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Ohio U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (center) with participants at a BW-hosted roundtable discussion on health disparities. Organizations represented included BW's new Health Equity Research & Education Institute; Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County; Center for Community Solutions; Cleveland Clinic; LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland; The MetroHealth Systems; Neighborhood Family Practice; University Hospitals; and VA Northeast Ohio Health Care Systems.

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