By MELISSA MEYER
Published July 12, 2023
UB will continue its commitment to addressing adverse social determinants of health in the community through its cutting-edge Community Health Equity Research Institute, thanks to support from Timothy and Vicki Murphy.
Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for clinical and translational research in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and his wife, Vicki, recently provided a generous donation to fund pilot studies in the Community Health Equity Research Institute and scholarship opportunities in mental health nursing in the School of Nursing, from which Vicki is a graduate.
The mission of the Community Health Equity Research Institute is to investigate the root causes of health disparities, and develop and test innovative solutions to eliminate regional health inequities. Led by Murphy, the institute has worked since its founding in 2019 with community organizations and leaders, policymakers, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and more to find solutions that will lead to systemic changes.
For example, in response to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black communities, the institute worked with community partners to bring visiting nurses to administer COVID-19 tests in the community, set up call centers at churches and distribute personal protective equipment and emergency food for food-insecure individuals and families. With this coordinated plan, the community was able to mitigate the disproportionate impact of fatalities in African American communities from 67% to 45%.
The Murphys’ gift includes scholarships in the School of Nursing for nurse practitioner students who are focusing their careers on mental health. Vicki Murphy, named the 2023 Distinguished Preceptor for the School of Nursing, is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who has been working with children and adolescents with mental health needs for nearly three decades. She has experienced firsthand the enormous lack of adequate mental health support for families and children in the area.
“Our region has a serious shortage of mental health care for children,” she says. “Nurse practitioners play an especially important role in working with children and families with mental health needs. The underserved communities in Buffalo are disproportionately impacted by this shortage.”
Scholarships will be awarded to nurse practitioner students focused on mental health with the stipulation that they work in Buffalo communities in need. This commitment strengthens the goal of improving health outcomes in urban communities.
“Limited access to mental health services disproportionately and adversely affects vulnerable and underserved populations,” says Annette Wysocki, dean of the School of Nursing. “Delayed and inadequate treatment can result in increased severity of mental health conditions, impaired daily functioning, higher risk of co-occurring mental health conditions and increased health care costs. Nurse practitioners with a psychiatric/mental health specialization play a vital role in increasing access to mental health services and improving the outcomes of these individuals.”
Timothy Murphy notes that life expectancy for a Black person living in Buffalo is 10 to 12 years shorter than that of a white resident. The prevalence of common diseases such as stroke, diabetes, hypertension and cancer occurs at dramatically higher rates in Black communities compared to the general population. Health outcomes in Erie County put residents in the bottom quarter of New York State in 2022; removing the five predominantly African American zip codes from that data places Erie County among the healthiest counties in the state.
Murphy stresses the importance of working in partnership with community members in addressing health disparities. “True partnership requires bidirectional relationships built on trust, mutual respect and cultural humility,” he says. “It is important for universities and academic health centers to move from viewing communities as people who have needs to recognizing them as assets who can show researchers how to better address social determinants of health and increase the impact of research discoveries.”
He also notes that health disparities cannot be solved by addressing access to health care alone. “If we could solve all the health care problems on the East Side of Buffalo tomorrow, that would improve health outcomes by about 15%. The other 85% is caused by poverty, educational opportunity, access to healthy food, disinvested neighborhoods, lead paint in homes and other social determinants of health,” Murphy explains.
“An important goal of our institute is to develop innovative solutions to reduce health disparities and test those interventions to determine which ones work,” he says. “The intent of offering pilot studies is to support research that will generate larger grants and projects that will lead to fundamental, systemic changes that will be required to eliminate race-based health inequities.”
Eliminating adverse social determinants of health will require engaging researchers across many disciplines. For this reason, the Community Health Equity Research Institute works with faculty from all 12 UB schools. The new funds committed by the Murphys are also intended to attract more UB faculty to conduct health disparities research. The institute assists faculty and students in partnering with the community to solve problems.
“We are grateful to Dr. Murphy and his wife, Vicki, for their generous donation to the university and their steadfast support of our community” says Allison Brashear, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School. “The Murphys’ $500,000 endowment will help us create new ideas and research; develop strategic, resilient solutions; and make significant strides in the battle against health inequities and pediatric mental health disparity in our region.”
Murphys’ gift supports Boldly Buffalo, the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign that aims to raise $1 billion to elevate student success, empower faculty research and drive lasting change in the Western New York community and around the world.