Spotlight on the 2011-12 Mutual Fund and Collaborative Projects

Seven public health projects recently received support from the Mutual Fund and Collaborative Projects Programs in the COPH. A total of $110,000 was awarded by Dean Ayman El-Mohandes, MBBCh, MD, MPH, and the Great Plains Public Health Training Center. The COPH is firmly committed to the principles and practice of community engagement and collaboration as a means for promoting and protecting the public’s health. The Mutual Fund and Collaborative Projects programs can be leveraged to support public health activities across the spectrum: education, capacity building, and workforce development; service and essential supports; community-engaged research and translation; and policy development.

The projects are designed to stimulate collaboration between COPH faculty, students, and community partners to address existing and emerging public health issues that will ultimately improve access and health outcomes. “These start-up funds encourage meaningful and mutually beneficial initiatives to advance community health and well-being through trustworthy relationships between academia and the community. By leveraging these resources, communities locally and statewide will receive the greatest impact,” Dr. El-Mohandes said. The projects were selected following a review process and reflect a diverse portfolio of joint campus-community initiatives.

The 2012-2013 Mutual Fund recipients include the following:

The 2012-2013 Great Plains Public Health Training Center recipients include the following:


Characterization of Occupational Hazards and Social Justice Issues among Latino Workers in Omaha.

Dr. Chandran Achutan, assistant professor in the COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health, and Mr. Sergio Sosa, executive director of the Heartland Workers Center, will co-lead this project. The UNMC COPH will partner with the Heartland Workers Center to identify the occupational hazards faced by Latino workers so that a more tailored approach for intervention is developed. Long term, the project aims to improve the health of Latino workers in Omaha by identifying the health and safety challenges faced by Hispanic workers in South Omaha through a Spanish questionnaire and by developing community service activities, including free hearing tests, and safety trainings. Mr. Sosa said that “The Heartland Workers Center hopes to continue working with the COPH to further develop the survey and execute it, in order to improve workplace health and safety. This grant is a great stepping stone to move this issue forward and to create a culture of safety.”

Regulating Alcohol Outlet Density to Reduce Excessive Alcohol Consumption.

A group of neighborhood leaders met at the Gifford Park Community Garden to work on a proposal to address alcohol outlet density through a local land use ordinance, setting a higher standard for business practices around alcohol sales and allowing the city more authority to address problem outlets.

Dr. Jim Stimpson, associate professor in the COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration, and Ms. Diane Riibe, executive director, Project Extra Mile, will co-lead this project. The UNMC COPH will partner with Project Extra Mile to address the public health problem of alcohol outlet density as a way to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. The project will utilize GIS mapping systems to map liquor licenses, alcohol-related violations, and nuisance violations associated with alcohol-licensed establishments in Omaha and Nebraska City. The mapping will help identify high violation history and high alcohol outlet density to assist police resources in reducing hot spots of alcohol abuse and related issues.

According to Ms. Riibe, “Over the past 20 years, alcohol outlets in Nebraska have grown at a rate nearly twice as fast as that of the state’s population, creating an overconcentration of alcohol outlets and increased alcohol-related problems in communities in the state. Numerous studies confirm that neighborhoods with a higher concentration of alcohol outlets experience higher rates of alcohol consumption, resulting in increased alcohol-related traffic crashes, assaults, homicides, and child maltreatment, among other crimes.” Ms. Riibe said that she and her staff are “looking forward to the partnership with UNMC to create a local data tool that can be used to educate community leaders on this important issue and be used by communities to advocate for change.” In addition, Margie Magnuson of the Alcohol Impact Coalition, one of the groups in Omaha that will utilize the information from the project to make real change in the community, said that “This collaborative project between UNMC and Project Extra Mile will help neighborhood leaders bring research and data related to alcohol outlet density from our own communities to the table as we work to create safer and healthier neighborhoods for people to live, work, and raise their families.”

Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) Cost Study Project

Photo courtesy of

Dr. Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, associate professor in the COPH Department of Epidemiology, and Ms. Erin Bock, assistant director of the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) will co-lead this project.

The UNMC COPH will partner with the MACCH to conduct a cost study to understand the impact of permanent housing initiatives on community and public systems such as hospitals, detoxification centers, correctional facilities, and mental health institutions. This will assist in the identification of characteristics of the homeless associated with high health care use.

The project will be implemented by a work group of MACCH representatives who will recruit homeless adults to participate in the research. Erin Bock, assistant director of MACCH says, “Recent successes in housing people who are most vulnerable show us that ending homelessness is possible in Omaha. The results of this cost study will further our progression towards a solution-focused system of care.” “We know that in communities across the country, vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness tend to have frequent interactions with hospitals and other community systems. Laura Peet-Erkes from Alegent+Creighton who is a member of the study team states, “It’s so important for us to be able to know what that looks like here in Omaha and how we as community partners can continue to work to ensure that individuals are getting the care and services that they need. It’s not just about reducing costs for health care facilities, it’s about human dignity and providing the right kind of care to people who need it.”

Characterization of Indoor Air Quality in Residences and Schools on the Winnebago Reservation

Dr. Chandran Achutan, assistant professor in the COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, and Ms. Mona Zuffante, administrator of the Winnebago Health Department, will co-lead this project. Ms. Andrea Mulvenon, a graduate student in the COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, will assist with the project. The UNMC COPH will partner with the Winnebago Health Department to (1) characterize indoor air quality, measuring carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, radon, and particulate matter in homes and schools on the Winnebago reservation, and (2) provide hands-on research training to senior college students as a way to increase research capacity on the reservation. The long-term goal of the project is to establish a mutually respectful, sustainable, working relationship between the Winnebago Tribe and the UNMC COPH to improve the health of Winnebago residents. Carolyn K. Fiscus, director of Indigenous Studies at Little Priest Tribal College, said that “This project is of great interest to us because it addresses an important health disparity in our community, namely asthma and respiratory health.”

Nebraska Adult Sexual Literacy Project (NASLiP)

Dr. Christopher Fisher, assistant professor in the COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health, and Dr. Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, will co-lead this project. Mr. Dylan Zaner, an undergraduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will assist with the project. The Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative and the Nebraska Sexual Health Coalition will partner to research the sexual literacy of a generalizable population-based sample of Nebraska adults as a way to inform interventions aimed at increasing sexual literacy for Nebraskans. Primary activities for the study will be conducted in Omaha with collaborative partners from across the state, including Lincoln, Kearney, Hastings, Wisner, and Scottsbluff. Over the long term, the project aims to build sustainable community-academic partnerships to address sexual health in Nebraska through a collaborative research process. Dr. Pour said “I am very excited about this grant opportunity since it will for the first time provide data on sexual literacy of adult Nebraskan’s that will then inform community-based programs.”

Douglas County Department of Corrections HIV Opt-In Testing Pilot Project

Students from the HIV opt-in testing project team gathered outside the jail.

This project will be undertaken by the following project team: Dr. Ruth Margalit, associate professor, COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health; Dr. Monirul Islam, assistant professor, COPH Department of Epidemiology; Dr. Kari Simonsen, assistant professor, COM Department of Pediatrics; Dr. Uriel Sandkovsky, assistant professor, COM Department of Internal Medicine; Dr. Mark Foxall, interim director of corrections, Douglas County Department of Corrections; Ms. Mary Earley, captain, Douglas County Department of Corrections; Dr. Adi Pour, director, Douglas County Health Department; Ms. Ann Smolsky, outreach coordinator, Nebraska AIDS Project; and Mr. Raees Shaikh, PhD student in the COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. A student board including UNMC students from the COPH, COM, COP and CON, as well as SOM students from Creighton, will assist with the project.

Douglas County, Nebraska, has a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections. The local jail has emerged as a crucial public health partner positioned to facilitate interventions to reduce STI rates within its high risk populations. In 2008, the project developed an innovative program to address the problem through collaboration between the jail, local health departments, public health agencies, and the Service Learning Academy at the College of Public Health. The program incorporates an interactive educational program to inform inmates about STIs and provide treatment. With the funding from the Great Plains Public Health Training Center, rapid HIV screening and counseling, with linkage to care, will be offered upon exit from the jail. The program presents an opportunity for health professions students to develop public health knowledge, along with organizational, communication and leadership skills, while engaging in hands-on interprofessional education and practice, ultimately leading to personal and professional growth.

Barb Glaser, education and programs coordinator in the Douglas County Department of Corrections, notes that “The students bring enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to our jail world. The benefits go far beyond the positive and negative tests results. The inmates learn that they are not invisible to the rest of the world. The students learn that people who are inmates today may be out tomorrow—living and working in the same community with the rest of us. They need good information, not urban myths, about STIs!” Michelle Fickes, LPN, pharmacy coordinator for Correct Care Solutions/Douglas County Department of Correctional Services, has observed that “All of the students are always very friendly and have great attitudes. They are very willing to learn and always ask appropriate questions. I have guided a few through the process of giving injections, and each one of them has done a wonderful job! Captain Mary Earley, CJM, Chief of Admissions in the Douglas County Department of Corrections, says that “It is encouraging to see so many participants from multiple agencies work together to resolve a public health issue. People are actually excited to work together and to explore the different facets each organization brings to the table. Solving issues like these needs a solid foundation, and I am proud to say this project started at the Douglas County Department of Corrections. I am also in awe of the resources and willingness that these participants bring forth in this effort—we could not do this without them.”