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Your Environment. Your Health.

Inaugural Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Program Meeting

April 26 & 27, 2010

The Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) program at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is an umbrella program that brings together scientists, community members, educators, health care providers, public health officials, and policy makers in the shared goal of advancing the impact of environmental public health research at local, regional, and national levels.  By fostering local, regional, and national partnerships between and among community residents/organizations, researchers, and other stakeholders in the research process, vital information about the linkages between exposures and disease can be discovered and used to promote health and reduce the risk of disease across the populations at highest risk.

Meeting Objectives

  • Promote interaction among grantees of different grant programs, and investigator-initiated grantees
  • Advance common approaches across different grant programs
  • Increase awareness among grantees, NIEHS staff and federal partners of the diverse projects and variety of approaches to address environmental public health issues
    • Share models and approaches of research, communication, capacity building, evaluation and coordination
    • Distribute materials developed by grantees
  • Encourage feedback and input on gaps and opportunities for NIEHS involvement in environmental public health

Inaugural PEPH Program Meeting
April 26 & 27, 2010

Meeting Participants:
220 registrants, representing

The PEPH program brings together scientists, community members, educators, health care providers, public health officials, and policy makers in the shared goal of advancing the impact of environmental public health research at local, regional, and national levels. The overarching goal of the first conference of the PEPH grantees and stakeholders was to introduce the diverse parties to one another and to provide opportunities for them to share their, projects, approaches, tools, experiences, and challenges.

Specifically stated, the meeting objectives were to:

In her welcoming remarks, Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), reiterated the NIEHS commitment to community engagement and continued support for the concept of partnerships to address the challenges of environmental public health. She encouraged meeting participants to interact actively, commenting that there is much to be learned if environmental public health researchers, communities, and government agencies look beyond their "programmatic silos" to understand common challenges and share approaches, tools, and lessons learned. Dr. Gwen Collman commented that "It feels like the entire environmental public health community is here" and echoed Dr. Birnbaum's encouragement that meeting participants take advantage of the gathering of the PEPH community at the conference to establish networks and strengthen partnerships.

In plenary and poster sessions, NIEHS grantees and representatives of community organizations presented research and/or case studies to demonstrate the breadth of issues being addressed by those under the PEPH umbrella. In each plenary session, speakers provided insight into specific aspects of their unique projects, yet common threads emerged. The strongest of these common themes is the importance of the community for the success of environmental public health research and education activities. Both researchers and community representatives stressed that community input is critical at all phases - from identification of topic/issue, through project design and implementation, and evaluation and follow-up. Another central theme is that building capacity within communities is essential to maximize and sustain the impact of environmental public health efforts.

Meeting participants engaged each of the speakers in question and answer sessions, drawing connections to their own work and requesting details that might help them apply the knowledge of others to their projects. The two poster sessions allowed meeting participants to interact one-on-one. The success of these interactions is indicated by the survey data. Approximately 93% of respondents reported making connections with grantees or community members that might support or inform their ongoing or future work in environmental public health. Eighty-three percent reported making potentially valuable connections with NIEHS, NIH, EPA, or CDC staff.

PEPH grantees and community partners were also given the opportunity to attend one-on-one demonstrations of the PEPH Resource Center. They learned how to enter materials and to browse and search the Resource Center contents.

The comments highlighted in the text boxes demonstrate the overwhelmingly positive responses to the conference. Overall, participants were appreciative of the information presented and the opportunity to meet with colleagues. Several comments were made to suggest improvements for future meetings:

  • Include breakout sessions to allow smaller groups to have focused discussions on specific topics.
  • Consider two full days to provide more unstructured/break periods to allow for spontaneous discussions among participants.
  • Provide an area for display of grantee-produced materials.
  • Increase representation of communities, and state/local agencies.
  • Include training sessions and/or field trips in addition to presentations and panels.
  • Manage plenary sessions more strictly. Keep speakers on track time-wise and keep audience comments and questions focused on the session topic.

When asked to suggest topics for future meetings, participants often proposed topics relevant to their specific research or community issues, but there were several overarching topics proposed:

  • Metrics and evaluation
  • Data ownership & management
  • Community "success stories" (presented by the community) to highlight how community-academic partnerships should work
  • Communication, including risk communication
  • Understudied/emerging issues

"This was the most productive and informative scientific meeting that I have participated in, in over a decade of attending scientific meetings. Given the scarcity of time for researchers, this type of focused exposure to a broad array of projects and potential collaborators is invaluable. Over the course of two days, NIEHS provided us with a breadth and depth of the partnership community that is generally acquired over the course of at least a year, in an ideal situation. Moreover, the interaction with other researchers both from the academy and the community, as well as with other federal funding agencies, is something that simply does not happen at this level. I learned about funding mechanisms that I had either never heard of, or never fully understood. And I also learned about all the great collaborative work going on across the country. I was vaguely familiar with some of the projects, but unaware in any detail about the research. I also discovered that I have been unnecessarily expending time and resources in terms of curriculum development because I was unaware of many of the curricula already developed by colleagues at other institutions. I will certainly do a much better job of leveraging my NIEHS dollars by drawing upon these preexisting curricula in the future. And I plan to submit two grants for May deadlines that I first learned about at the meeting."

- Beverly-Xaviera Watkins, New York University Medical Center

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