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Understanding community needs to address health disparities: the FIU-RCMI 2020 Health Equity Symposium

FIU’s Research Center in Minority Institutions (FIU-RCMI) recently brought together students, faculty, and community members for the 2020 Health Equity Symposium: Harnessing University-Community Partnerships to Eliminate Health Disparities. 

The daylong conference gave symposium participants the opportunity to discuss current health disparities research in community-based minority health research. The conference gave researchers from FIU and throughout the community the opportunity to share methods and discuss and trends that influence each of their projects. 

Highlights from the symposium included: 

  • Child caregiving health and mental load: Poverty, trauma, legal problems, violence, and discrimination negatively impact minority persons living with chronic conditions requiring adherence to treatment. According to keynote speaker Victoria Behar-Zusman, professor at the University of Miami and co-principal investigator for the Center for Latino Health Research Opportunities (CLaRO), for mothers, especially for those in single parent households, the mental load of caregiving increases the “mother’s psychological distress, fatigue, pain and body mass index.” When working with mothers facing addiction, the surprising research was that while addiction was central to family strife, the mothers remained the center of family organization and mother’s main motivation toward recovery was for the betterment of their children. For researchers working with families, Behar-Zusman’s message was clear: lead with the mother, if possible, as they are the key to the family. 
  • It’s easy, it’s safe and important—the 2020 Census: The largest federal peacetime effort in U.S. history is currently underway, the 2020 census. A constitutional mandate since 1790, symposium presented Rafeal De La Portilla, senior partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, emphasized the importance of the census to understand a true picture of the American population so that congress can determine $675 billion in federal subsidies annually. “Census is about how America knows what America needs. It is a snapshot of America on one single; on April 1, 2020, that is when America takes one giant selfie. This is a cornerstone of our democracy,” de la Portilla said. 
  • Urgent need for research on and intervention for vaping among teens: With more than 25 percent of high school students currently smoking e-cigarettes, the Antecedents and Consequences of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems Project (ACE Project)’s co-principal investigators Elisa Trucco and Matthew Sutherland spoke about conducting research in the public-school setting. The team’s message was about the importance of community engagement and understanding teens today, speaking directly to them (including running trivia games to engage their audience) to ensure research participation. 
  • Ending the HIV epidemic by offering help where it is needed: Barbara Kubilus, chief operating officer, Project Access, spoke about ensuring accessible resources to priority populations in who are at risk for HIV in Miami-Dade, where there are more than 26,000 individuals living with HIV. Priority populations, including men who have sex with men (MSM) and young adults. According to Kubilus, her team “goes to where the hard to reach populations are found to find those who can really benefit” from our work. Using the triple effect, they do outreach where it needs to happen, offer hybrid counseling intervention to high-risk individuals, and offer rapid access treatment by hand-holding individuals to help them get the best help.”  

Additional speakers included, Mary Jo Trekpa, leader of the FIU-RCMI Investigator Development Core and professor in the Department of Epidemiology, who gave updates on the Investigator Development Core Pilot Grant Program.  To date, the pilot grant program has supported over $400,000 in research by early career health disparities researchers at FIU; later this month, a new round of applications will be reviewed and five will be selected for funding.  Adriana Campa, leader for the FIU-RCMI Community Engagement Core and chair of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition and, discussed FIU-RCMI’s community engagement efforts, which included recently funding six community organizations for community-university capacity building in health equity research partnerships. 

“The FIU-RCMI 2020 Health Equity Symposium reflects FIU’s preeminence in working with local communities toward improving the health and well-being of all South Floridians.  The students, faculty, and community members who participated reinforced one another’s passion and commitment to eliminating health disparities affecting minority communities. The FIU-RCMI is honored and humbled to be at the forefront of community-partnered research efforts expressly intended to end health inequities once and for all,” said, Eric F. Wagner, principal investigator of the FIU-RCMI and professor of Social Work.

The FIU-RCMI is funded by $13.1 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

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