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Dell Med Faculty Researcher Receives PCORI Engagement Award Program Funding

Jan. 30, 2020

Dell Medical School Department of Population Health faculty researcher Virginia A. Brown, Ph.D., M.A., has received funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s Eugene Washington PCORI Engagement Award program.

She is the first faculty researcher at Dell Med to be awarded funding from PCORI, said William M. Tierney, M.D., chair of the Department of Population Health. Her project, “Engaging Community by Engaging Researchers: PCOR in Action,” will enhance “the department’s vision to ensure that all who live, work and play in Central Texas are not only consulted but are actively at the table to shape and guide in the identification, development and dissemination of research findings to address the needs of the community we serve. Congratulations to Dr. Brown for receiving this funding award.”

As a researcher, I was drawn to the PCORI Engagement Award program’s mission because it prioritizes the involvement of patients facing a specific illness and their family and caregivers, including patient advocacy groups (i.e., community stakeholders), and expands this involvement to include the health care stakeholders (i.e., providers, payers, clinicians, hospitals, health care systems and policy makers) in the identification of the research problem to the interpretation, application and dissemination of the research findings. PCOR differs from community-based participatory research in that PCOR prioritizes “issues and concerns germane” to patient and family stakeholders facing a specific illness, while CBPR prioritizes community capacity building for health.

In keeping with the patient-centered focus — on mental health — this project begins by creating the Collaborative Council for Mental Health. This 13-member council will work to foster long-term patient-centered outcomes research in Austin and Travis County, Texas, by enhancing and accelerating patient-centered research collaborations between community and health care stakeholders and campus (i.e., academic) stakeholder partners. To accomplish this, I have partnered with Community-Campus Partnerships for Health executive director Al Richmond, MSW, and Wisconsin Network for Research Support director of stakeholder engagement Gay Thomas, M.A., and community liaison and communications specialist Katrina “Kat” Phelps, Ph.D., for their expertise in training and building engaged community networks. This collaboration promises to enhance how communities and researchers join together in, as Richmond describes, “promoting health equity and social justice through partnerships between communities and academic institutions.”

Co-collaborators Octavio N. Martinez Jr., M.D., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and Suchitra Gururaj, Ph.D., assistant vice president for community engagement and economic development in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin, bring, respectively, mental health expertise and established stakeholder-relationship experience to this project. Dell Med colleagues Anjum Khurshid, M.D., Ph.D., MPA, a PCORI ambassador and an assistant professor and the director of data integration in the Department of Population Health, and Elizabeth “Liz” Jacobs, M.D., MAPP, a professor in the Department of Population Health and chief of primary care and value-based health in the Department of Internal Medicine, will serve as advisers to the project, incorporating their nationally recognized leadership and experience in PCOR. Additionally, I am delighted to have received stakeholder support for this project from Austin Public Health executive director Stephanie Y. Hayden, Integral Care chief executive director David Evans and National Alliance on Mental Illness Central Texas executive director Karen Ranus. Each of these stakeholder partners brings clinical, community advocacy, health care system and patient stakeholder expertise to this project.

The Engagement Award provides $250,000 over two years to establish an affiliate Community Campus Partnership for Health to create guidelines to incorporate PCOR knowledge into the philanthropic practices at the Hogg Foundation and to develop a culture of patient-centered and collaborative research at Dell Med. My team and I are excited and honored to have been selected to carry out this work.