Connecting Towns to Gowns: GMA and UGA’s College of Public Health Collaborate on Fellowship Program

June 4, 2021

This year, both the pandemic and social unrest exacerbated many existing inequities, including differences in health outcomes for Georgians.

While cities are usually not direct healthcare providers, they can influence their residents’ quality of life in many ways. That is one of the main reasons why GMA’s Equity and Inclusion Commission identified health as an important component of its work. It is also why GMA partnered with the University of Georgia when its College of Public Health launched a new Health Equity Fellows program earlier this year.

Dean Marsha Davis and Grace Bagwell Adams, assistant dean for outreach, engagement, and equity at UGA’s College of Public Health, led the inaugural cohort of five fellows. Each student was paired with a faculty mentor and a city in Georgia to provide learning opportunities and form new partnerships. Their work directly addresses health inequities and serves as an advertisement for the mutual benefits produced by the cooperation between cities and universities.

The Projects

Harrison Huang compiled a substance abuse report and developed treatment options in Young Harris to reduce stigma and overcome barriers to care. The centerpiece of his research was a youth leadership program with the potential to drive local workforce development, provide positive socio-cultural norms, and fill service gaps. Mayor Andrea Gibby applauded him for being able “to bring our worlds of knowledge together and to help us formulate where we are going to go next.”

Carlyncia McDowell researched the importance of health equity in Milledgeville. She built a dataset on the current state of health in Baldwin County and identified initiatives in other communities that can be adapted locally, particularly programs addressing mental health in the criminal justice system. City Manager Hank Griffeth appreciated her work:

“City leaders will soon look at best practices” to plan for the implementation of a mental health public safety initiative or diversion program.

Jennifer Quezada’s project for Moultrie focused on connecting people to public health resources after finding many residents use the local hospital’s emergency room as a clinic. She created a health resources directory in English and Spanish and developed a distribution plan. City Manager Pete Dillard intends to update this publication regularly and emphasized its equity component.

“To have a directory in one place that we can now link to our website, that we can now link to our website, that we can disseminate to many places, is invaluable because there are so many who don’t have access,” Dillard said.

Amber Bullard worked with College Park on the health effects of airport noise. Combining quantitative data with interviews of local officials, she recommended conducting a local needs assessment and forming health education teams to provide information about noise mitigation efforts. Gary Young, College Park’s director of airport affairs, praised Bullard for capturing the complex interplay between stakeholders.

“We truly appreciate her and all the faculty at UGA for creating this dialogue,” Young said. “She did a great job understanding the various perspectives—airlines, developers, airports, local jurisdictions.”

Kenya Murray, the cohort’s only Ph.D. student, explored the adoption of a free medical clinic model in Fitzgerald. Her qualitative study intends to show the lived experience of public health inequities and to  provide research that can inform policy. Christina Graham, executive director of the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill Policy Council for Children and Families, is excited about the possibilities.

“Finding out what people’s experiences are will give us lots of new directions to go to improve the community,” Graham said.

Given the positive reactions from city officials, GMA and UGA’s College of Public Health will convene a second cohort in the fall.

“These efforts dovetail perfectly with GMA initiatives including the Equity and Inclusion Commission, Georgia City Solutions, and COVID vaccine campaign,” said Becky Taylor, GMA’s Director of Federal Relations and Research.

“This is the first time cities have had access to the expertise provided by this outstanding group of Fellows. Their research serves as a model for work underway in cities across Georgia, and we are grateful to UGA’s College of Public Health for bringing this opportunity to Georgia’s cities. We look forward to our continued partnership.”

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2021 edition of Georgia’s Cities magazine.

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