University of Texas at Austin

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Answering the call for health disparities research

State Sen. Kirk Waton, Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing, and Earl Maxwell, chief executive of the St. David's Foundation, marked the foundation's endowment of a health-care research center.

State Sen. Kirk Waton, Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing, and Earl Maxwell, chief executive of the St. David's Foundation, marked the foundation's endowment of a health-care research center.

Over the past decade, researchers from across The University of Texas at Austin have received small grants from the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research in Underserved Populations, which is in the School of Nursing.

The researchers used this money – about $600,000 altogether – to undertake small pilot projects in the community to determine whether a subject is worth pursing on a larger scale.

To a large degree, the researchers were successful.

They not only developed larger research projects that received $14.1 million in grants, they also developed ways to improve health care.

Now that work will continue.

St. David’s Foundation has made a $3 million gift to the School of Nursing to permanently fund the center. It will be known at St. David’s CHPR.

The center had been funded for 10 years by the National Institute of Nursing Research, a part of the National Institutes of Health\.

The missions of the center and the foundation mesh, said Earl Maxwell, the chief executive of St. David’s Foundation.

“We were particularly attracted to this research center because it aims to optimize health outcomes for the populations that we serve: vulnerable, low-income, uninsured and otherwise underserved patients,” Maxwell said.

Patricia Carter, an associate professor in the School of Nursing, used a CHPR grant for a study about people who care for loved ones were are seriously ill. These caregivers suffer from chronic sleep loss.

Carter checked proposed methods for recruiting subjects, methods, procedures and tested the proposed treatment on a small group.

“This gave me the data to show the National Institute for Mental Health that the project was feasible and worth doing,” she said.

Other projects conducted by center researchers include:

  • Cardiovascular health and brain function among Mexican-American adults at risk for hypertension.
  • Alcohol and drug use among homeless youth.
  • Mental health needs of low-income older Texans.
  • Causes of premature births among Hispanic women.
  • Education and support for diabetic Hispanics.
  • Helping women with HIV live better.
  • Memory improvement and depression among older adults.
  • Health risks of homeless teen-agers.
  • Researchers have published their results in journals and presented them at conferences.

    Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the College of Nursing, said the work of the center and of St. David’s Foundation is needed more than ever.

    “As we move forward – in a world where health disparities are more pronounced, where individual patients deal with multiple debilitating and serious conditions, and where the landscape of providing care to them is changing more rapidly than ever, we are grateful that St. David’s Foundation has seen the need and is answering the call,” she said.

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