Collaborating to Address Health Disparities

by Kara McKinn | Aug 11, 2014

CIC universities have long contributed to the quality of life in their communities—and we’re now poised for even greater impact by working in concert with state government offices in the eleven state region to address the issue of health disparities.

Partnerships between public health agencies and academic institutions have historically been focused on single specific issues or services. What has been missing is a systemic approach or view of academic-public health agency partnerships. The idea to address health disparities in a significant, coordinated way arose through conversations between the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota. The team quickly realized that the entire CIC/Big Ten region shared a common problem in this arena—and that the region also possessed a unique resource in the CIC.

The proposed CIC Health Disparities Project will address some of the social determinants of health, which are believed to play a much bigger role in health outcomes than medical care. The project seeks to create an infrastructure to develop and foster collaborations at the system level with the goal of: 

  • Developing data around disparities.
  • Identifying appropriate interventions.
  • Implementing relevant interventions to eliminate or reduce disparities and advance health equity.
Project leaders from the CIC and the Minnesota Department of Public Health are approaching potential funding agents for a planning grant to help launch this initiative, which will engage researchers and resources on every CIC campus, as well as the departments of health in each of the nine states. The benefits for public health agencies align with access to the intellectual capital embedded in academic institutions. For the universities, the formalized relationship would provide access to public health data as well as evidence to validate, support, or otherwise inform public policy or other interventions. Finally, more formalized interaction between researchers, faculty, and public health staff will enable faster diffusion of knowledge and uptake of good practice and policy, and a coordinated network of informed leadership. 

    Whether or not we are successful in garnering external support, the early work on this project points the way to other areas of research collaboration. By working together on successful collaborations such as the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, CIC universities are poised to leverage the $10 billion research enterprise for even greater impact on the region.