New home for COM program aimed at eliminating health disparities

"This is the perfect storm in a good way," said Carl Patten, (left) the public policy research and education consultant for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. He presented a $10,000 check to UF psychology professor Dr. Carolyn Tucker, College of Medicine Dean Dr. Michael Good and Cynthia Butler of the UF Foundation. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Last year Dr. Carolyn Tucker set out to achieve two goals that she felt would help fill the health-care gap among minorities, the poor and the underserved. Tucker and her team wanted to train the next generation of researchers interested in community health promotion and empower communities and families to take charge of their health, thereby reducing health disparities in the region.

On June 4, just one year later, Tucker, a College of Medicine endowed term professor of health disparities, and her team reached a key milestone when the College of Medicine opened the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program in the Medical Sciences Building of the Health Science Center.

“This program has support from top university leaders including UF President Bernie Machen, Win Phillips, UF’s vice president for research, Paul D’Anieri, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Pete Pevonka, director of the office of research,” said Dr. Michael Good, dean of the College of Medicine.

The key to the creation and development of the Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program has been partnerships. It took collaborations within UF, including Tucker, director of the program and professor of psychology and community health and family medicine, Dr. Nancy Hardt, senior associate dean for external affairs, Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Rothi, Dr. Rebecca Pauly, Tucker’s Health Psychology and Behavior Medicine Research teams and members of the community to get the program off the ground. The Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida was recognized at the program’s opening event as being the first funding source to help the program transition to a center. The foundation is the philanthropic affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida.

Much of the research conducted by program investigators is based on health self-empowerment and evaluates the effectiveness of culturally sensitive health promotion and interventions. For example, through the Patient-Centered Culturally Sensitive Health Care and Health Promotion project, clinical research tools were created and then tested to evaluate the impact of health empowerment-focused intervention on culturally diverse patients with type 2 diabetes.

The Health-Smart Church Program brings church members, pastors, communities and families together to help improve African-American health. This program targets African-American women facing issues such as obesity or hypertension to identify barriers to healthy behaviors and find ways to help them adopt healthier lifestyles.

Another program targets health in the workplace by increasing participation in health-promoting behaviors among staff at outpatient health-care clinics. The Clinic Staff Health-Smart Behavior Project evaluates the impact the clinic staff’s eating habits have on their families and on their interactions with patients.

At the grand opening event, Good and Tucker were presented with a check for $10,000 by Carl Patten, a public policy and research consultant with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to further the company’s investment in the program.

“Our mission and vision is to focus on improving the health status of residents of Florida,” said Patten. “The key to moving forward in our mission is quality research.”