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Dell Med Launches Population & Mental Health Projects

April 25, 2018

AUSTIN, Texas — Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin is launching two new projects around population and mental health to advance its efforts to improve health and health care in Central Texas. These projects were made possible by two grants awarded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

The first two-year grant is to support a new Center for Youth Mental Health focused on mood and anxiety disorders for young people age 15 to 25 years old. The second is a grant to build a secure and accessible data system to link social determinants of health and clinical data to improve health outcomes. Some examples of these social determinants are social and economic opportunities, affordable housing, transportation availability, food access and healthy social support – factors that have a significant impact on a person’s overall health.

Developing & Disseminating Best Practices for Transition-Age Youths

Half of American adults living with mental illness say their symptoms began during childhood and early adulthood, according to a 2005 study. Yet older teens and young adults are less likely than any other age group to seek help for their symptoms.

“To add to these problems, young people transitioning into adulthood often face a sudden disconnect in their care as they stop seeing their pediatric mental health providers and need to start seeking care in adult treatment settings,” said Stephen Strakowski, M.D., professor and chair of Dell Med’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The mission of the Center for Youth Mental Health is to encourage and invest in community-based ideas to support young people transitioning into adulthood and living with mental illness so that they have the tools they need to become healthy, productive and independent adults.

“The generous donation from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation helps Dell Med move closer to establishing our program as a national model for supporting young people living with mental illness through the sharing of effective, invaluable research findings,” Strakowski says.

Several community organizations provided leadership in developing the center in conjunction with Dell Med including Integral Care, NAMI Austin, Lifeworks and UT Austin’s College of Education and Steve Hicks School of Social Work.

The Center for Youth Mental Health will serve as a multidisciplinary incubator aiming to:

  • Rapidly design, test and launch new research-based models of mental health care
  • Eliminate barriers and establish effective treatments for transition-age youths
  • Fill gaps and improve treatment outcomes for minority young people
  • Develop and quickly test treatments geared at supporting better quality of life, staying in school and staying at work
  • Collaborate with community members and organizations to find the best replicable care solutions for transition-age youths

“Involving patients and families in designing new approaches to mental health care is a key feature that sets this apart as an innovative initiative,” said William Tierney, M.D., chair of Dell Med’s Department of Population Health.

The Center is currently seeking applications for innovative projects aimed at improving the mental health care of older adolescents and young adults. Proposal applications are due on April 30, 2018.

Using Data to Develop a Comprehensive Understanding of Factors that Affect Health

Population health is at the core of Dell Med’s goal to make Austin a model healthy city. This data project aims to build a secure, accessible, cloud-based environment to connect social determinants of health with health care data.

About 80 percent of our health results from social determinants such as health behaviors, social and economic factors and the physical environment; only about 20 percent is due to clinical care, according to a 2010 study from the University of Wisconsin. However, this data is not readily available to those who can positively affect these factors.

“We expect to develop a shared resource that will become the foundation for building innovative community health programs and will provide improved access to social determinants of health data through user-friendly, web-based interfaces,” said Anjum Khurshid, M.D., director of data integration at Dell Med’s Department of Population Health. The database will be publicly available so anyone can examine a particular neighborhood’s social barriers to health.

“This project will be a step toward building a more comprehensive data environment, bringing in data from a variety of data sources and tying them to clinical data to inform better decisions,” Khurshid said.

The first use case of the platform is being implemented in collaboration with People’s Community Clinic for managing pediatric asthma using relevant environmental health data. Ultimately, the platform will make social determinants of health data available to health care providers and social service organizations to better serve their populations, and to individuals and families for identifying barriers and opportunities to improve health in their neighborhoods.