Twenty-three representatives from 14 nonprofits on the front lines of South Side health issues met with more than a dozen potential University of Chicago Medicine collaborators on campus Oct.10 to bring together key players fighting adult diabetes and childhood obesity for the next round of University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) Community Benefit Grants applications.
“The speed dating was such a fun idea,” said Laura Starr, Foundation Relations & Communications Manager at CommunityHealth. “It definitely made me want to have longer conversations with some of the faculty members. I walked away with a lot of interesting notes scribbled onto business cards that could lead to some fascinating investigations in our clinic.”
UChicago faculty also said the event introduced them to several potential collaborators.
“It was great, it made my head spin!” said Deborah Burnet, MD, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and Section Chief of General Internal Medicine, spreading a deck of business cards across a table after the event. “I have follow-ups with most people.”
As part of the UCM Community Benefit Grant Program, this joint initiative between the Urban Health Initiative (UHI) and the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) to tackle adult diabetes and pediatric asthma and obesity in South Side residents – three prevalent conditions identified by a 2012 UCM Community Health Needs Assessment – launched in 2014. In just over a year, this initiative has awarded more than $280,000 to nonprofit leaders and their UChicago research collaborators to propel their innovative work in those areas and evaluate its impact.
And it’s happening in communities where help is needed the most.
About 40 percent of local children ages five to 17 are overweight or obese, according to the report, and the rate of diabetes-related deaths is 1.5 times higher among non-Hispanic blacks in the South Side than in Cook County overall.
“The ITM grants program can address these issues by fostering collaboration between community organizations that are already doing good work in these areas and pairing them with faculty who are passionate about these health issues and can offer their clinical, research, and evaluation expertise,” said ITM investigator Arshiya Baig, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine.
To be eligible for the grants, community programs must partner with a UChicago faculty member. And that’s where the Thursday afternoon “speed-dating” event came into play.
Baig and ITM investigator Doriane Miller, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and the Director of the Center for Community Health and Vitality, kicked off the event over boxed lunches in the lobby of UChicago’s Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery (KCBD). Baig highlighted the importance of social context in health care by sharing her experience with the vital role that churches play in educating and helping Latino community members with diabetes manage their disease.
“The event was great because it provided a forum for community leaders and faculty to openly engage in these conversations and explore possibilities to work together,” Baig said.
For the meet-and-greet, the faculty sat on one side of a long table, backs to the bright October sunshine, facing an empty chair. Then things got rolling, and the seats filled up with community representatives who had less than five minutes to talk with a potential UChicago collaborator. When their time was up, they had to cede to the next person.
“I came here with my team so we can divide and conquer!” said T.L. Barrett III, a board member of the KLEO Community Family Life Center, which works to reduce domestic violence through outreach and mentoring in community schools.
Kendra Julion is the Community Programs Manager of Pilot Light, a program four prominent local chefs started in 2010 to educate students about healthy food. Julien said that Pilot Light has already had a successful collaboration with Burnet that inspired them to attend the event.
Katherine Mueller, the Program Manager of the Asian Health Coalition, said that she was looking for ways to improve access to care for patients with diabetes.
“We’re looking at text messaging options as part of our current drive to bring in family members to support individuals who are learning ways to manage their diabetes,” Mueller said, adding that she was encouraged by the text messaging success Baig had with adults with diabetes.
CommunityHealth’s Laura Starr, who has received prior UCM Community Benefit Grant support, said that she hopes the event and potential UChicago collaborations help share what her organization has learned with the larger community.
“We’re so focused on immediate outcomes, that it’s hard to see the big picture,” Starr said. “I want to share the microcosm that we work in with the outside world.”
Story originally published by the Institute for Translational Medicine.