By: Norfolk State University

EVMS, ODU and NSU Receive $3M in Grants from Sentara Healthcare to Tackle Disparities in
Maternal and Behavioral Health

These collaborative grants are part of the $50 million investment from the Sentara Healthier Communities Fund to address health disparities, working with local partner universities – Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), Old Dominion University (ODU), and Norfolk State University (NSU) – alongside the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD).

Sentara Healthcare has established two new collaborative grants at EVMS, ODU and NSU to decrease health disparities in underserved communities.

Sentara’s gift will support collaboration between EVMS, ODU and NSU, along with CHKD, as they work jointly to identify and address critical issues that adversely impact mothers of color and underserved communities struggling with access to behavioral health. These initiatives will launch in July.

“We are truly grateful for Sentara’s commitment to improving public health through research, technology and education,” said Bonnie Van Lunen, Ph.D., interim dean for the joint School of Public Health Initiative. “Their strong support has not only helped us pursue our goal of establishing a future joint School of Public Health but will also help us address complex challenges to improve health in underserved communities. These grants further strengthen Sentara’s strong legacy in the 757 region and beyond.”

The first $1.5 million grant project, co-led by Dr. Cynthia Romero from EVMS, Felicia Mebane from NSU and Van Lunen from ODU, will support the creation of a comprehensive and integrated person-centered pathway for treating mothers with substance use disorder (SUD), with the aim of improving health outcomes in pregnant and parenting women. Researchers from EVMS, ODU and NSU will engage 10 clinicians and collaborate with more than 30 community organizations to support this effort. 

“Our goal is to drive health equity and provide value to the communities we serve from our jointly generated public health innovations,” said Dr. Romero. “Sentara’s grant will not only help us solve unmet medical needs but also train students and faculty in the innovative treatment pathway to improve the health of our community.”

“Sentara is pleased to work with ODU, EVMS and NSU through funding a $1.5 million maternal health grant to reduce morbidity and mortality during a woman’s perinatal care. This grant, and others like it, are about partnering with our communities to enable people to live their healthiest, most fulfilling lives,” said Howard P. Kern, president and CEO of Sentara Healthcare. “We are actively working to address health disparities and improve access to needed care and wrap-around services and resources that will drive lasting change in our communities. We have found that collaborating with other like-minded organizations and individuals helps us expand our reach into the neighborhoods that are most needy.”

The second $1.5 million grant goes to the Hampton Roads Biomedical Research Consortium to create a collaborative project led by Heather Richter, Ph.D., from ODU, Elizabeth Dungee-Anderson, Ph.D., from NSU and Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason from Children’s Specialty Group, CHKD and EVMS. The project will address health-related social needs, activating child caregivers to utilize community resources and empower medical homes to support early childhood mental health and well-being. Researchers at NSU, ODU, EVMS and CHKD will use a participatory research approach, collaborating with members of the community to gather input and develop solutions to improve mental health care for children. 

“In this way we will simultaneously study the population and develop community and data-driven strategic plans for intervention to improve mental health,” said Eric Weisel, associate vice president for applied research and executive director of the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center at Old Dominion University.

As part of this effort, researchers will directly engage civic associations, community organizations, nonprofits and faith groups in the implementation of a consultation model to improve the quality of pediatric psychiatric care. With a goal of improving the mental health and well-being of children in Hampton Roads, they will embed community-based participatoryresearch, social work intervention and clinical consultation data within the Digital Neighborhoods computation environment to improve understanding about the health disparities that arise from insecure childhood environments.

“CHKD is grateful for Sentara’s support of this collaborative research, which will combine the strengths of the many community agencies to address critical health care needs in our community,” said Gleason, vice chief of mental health services at CHKD.

These two innovative public health initiatives offer great promise for a tremendous long-term payoff.  

“Sentara’s grants affirm the power of enabling partner universities to leverage community-based research and data science to improve health outcomes in novel ways. Through this continued support, they are not only reversing long-held inequities, but also transforming the future of public health for the betterment of our community,” said ODU Spokesperson Giovanna Genard.

In addition to these grants, Sentara funded the Sentara Endowed Chair in Bioelectrics at Old Dominion University currently held by Dr. John Catravas; contributed $6 million to support ODU, NSU, and EVMS in the creation of a future joint School of Public Health; and continues to train and support college students, the future leaders in health sciences. These commitments place Sentara among the largest corporate donors to ODU.

“ODU is committed to working collectively with researchers across the region to truly address public health inequities in Hampton Roads, and we couldn’t ask for a more supportive partner in this effort than Sentara,” said ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. “Together, we will do transformational work that improves the health of our community.”

Norfolk State has also greatly benefited from the philanthropy of Sentara Hospital. Through a series of donations, the university has been able to expand its impact on health and wellness issues for students and residents of Hampton Roads. For more than a year, NSU’s Felicia Mebane, Ph.D., M.S.P.H, interim executive director of the Center for Public Health Initiatives, has worked with ODU and EVMS leaders to establish a foundation for the joint School of Public Health. She has also collaborated with an interdisciplinary group of more than a dozen NSU faculty to create an initial vision for NSU’s growing public health initiatives. NSU faculty have committed to promote wellness, increase access to care, address mental health challenges, reduce Black maternal and infant mortality rates, and other community health needs.

“Our vision is to build a strong and lasting foundation of public health academic programs, research and service at NSU and for the school that is community-anchored and impactful,” said Mebane. “I am thrilled to collaborate with colleagues across NSU, ODU and EVMS to use these funds to focus on underserved communities and help all people in Hamptons Roads thrive. I also thank our partners at Sentara Cares for supporting this unique opportunity.” 

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