Population Health Center’s 2019-2020 Highlights

boy having height measured

The Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program is a national longitudinal study funded by NIH.

The Mason: Health Starts Here Student Cohort Study is designed to answer questions about young adults’ health status during college.

Dean Louis speaking at the October 2019 opening of the Population Health Center.

Population Health Center’s 2019-2020 Highlights - A Letter from Dean Louis

This month we will celebrate the first anniversary of the College’s Population Health Center (PHC).  As you may recall, the PHC’s official opening was on October 18, 2019 with Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Daniel Carey, giving keynote remarks for the 236 registered participants.  Despite the marked interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the PHC was able to deliver upon its threefold mission of interprofessional clinical care, research of consequence and professional development.  We recognize and thank the PHC’s inaugural co-directors who worked to deliver our mission and position the Center for continued success.  Specifically, Drs. Alison Cuellar, Caroline Sutter and Rebecca Sutter were responsible for directing the Center’s research, professional development and clinical services, respectively.  Here are some highlights from the past year.

With regard to clinical care, the PHC has treated patients and communities in Northern Virginia and beyond with careful attention to the social determinants of health.  Faculty and students have provided coordinated care for over 100 patients this past year.  With donor support, we have built a telehealth infrastructure that enables practitioners to provide continuity of chronic disease management for over 800 patients who were seen across the Mason and Partners Clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These visits have included the provision of preventive and chronic disease management, medication checks, substance misuse, and providing vital connections to food and housing resources.  Supplemented by an additional grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (VA 0723-A58), we will be providing telehealth services to rural low-income residents throughout Virginia and West Virginia over the next year. 

With regard to the design and implementation of research of consequence, the PHC supported the launching of two new prospective cohort studies that are currently underway. 

  • Mason:  Health Starts Here Student Cohort Study (funded by grants #215030 & 223707 from the Institute for Biohealth Innovation) is designed to answer questions about young adults’ aged 18-24 years health status during college.  The Study has recruited 350 first-year Mason undergraduates who were recruited in 2019, and is currently recruiting 2020 first-year students.  Participants undergo a physical examination, complete diet and lifestyle questionnaires and provide blood, urine and saliva biospecimens for future biomarker research.  Health information is reported back to participants empowering them to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles with the overarching goal of ensuring health across the lifespan.  Drs. Larry Cheskin and Alison Cuellar are co-principal investigators for this transdisciplinary collaborative research along with colleges from other colleges at Mason.  Follow-on studies are being planned as are the initial scientific papers stemming from this work as it enters its second year.
  • ECHO Consortium on Perinatal Programming of Neurodevelopment is a seven-year grant (5UH3OD023337-04) funded by the National Institutes of Health whose goal is to recruit and follow approximately 1,750 children from Northern Virginia across sensitive developmental windows to delineate the impact of environmental exposures on children’s neurodevelopment.  ECHO is a national study with multiple research sites across the U.S.  Fortuitously, the study is now positioned to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s development increasing our understanding of how environmental-infectious agents may affect children’s health.  Dr. Kathi Huddleston serves as principal investigator, and Drs. Rosemary Higgins and Germaine Louis as co-investigators.

With regard to training and professional development, the PHC offered various professional development and training opportunities for targeted audiences.    

  • For health professionals, the PHC offered:
    • 5 professional development events for 267 people of which 2 events provided 248 free continuing education credits for regional health professionals.
    • 3 Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) workshops on COVID-19 with a focus on adolescents and myocardial infarction.
    • Telemental health training opportunities for 26 students.
    • Seminars for community groups (e.g., ImmunizeVA; Community Healthcare Coalition of Greater Prince William; Northern Virginia Coalition for Refugee Wellness; Prevention Alliance and Trauma Informed Care Network), while helping other groups in pivoting to online platform (e.g., Virginia SBIRT; Community Resilience for COVID-19).
  • For foundations, the PHC supported:
    • Claude Moore Health Scholars’ program funding to build an online resource library to support and advance high school health certificate programs throughout Virginia.
  • For Mason, the PHC supported:
    • Dean’s seminar series
    • Mason’s Early Identification Program’s (EIP) to educate students about health careers to help ensure a workforce pipeline. 

Despite the marked interruptions associated with the COVID-11 pandemic and the University’s move to online instruction and cancelation of all activities and events through August 2020, the PHC delivered upon its vision to be an experiential learning environment where students provide clinical care for vulnerable populations, design and implement research of consequence and engage with professional development initiatives for health professions and workers.  Working side-by-side with faculty, we remain committed to the preparedness of career-ready graduates positioned to advance the public’s health through research discoveries, integrated care and community connectedness.

In the coming year, the PHC remains a resource for faculty.  We will continue to offer clinical, research and professional development opportunities, including those originating either directly or indirectly from the pandemic.  Drs. Rosemary Higgins and Caroline Sutter will serve as co-Directors for the PHC, and both are available to help faculty and our community partners advance our mission.   The PHC is a valuable resource with endless opportunities for our College’s faculty and students, and we welcome bold and creative thinking so that we can continue to deliver the public’s health.

With appreciation of all that has been accomplished,

Dean Germaine Louis