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Your Environment. Your Health.

Community Engagement at a Distance: Maintaining Trusting Partnerships

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

October 29, 2020

Group of people seated at conference room table wearing masks

Last month we heard about strategies for educators and students to engage safely and meaningfully as we continue to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this webinar, we heard from three community-engaged research projects that have been devising strategies to sustain their community partnerships during the pandemic. As we all know, face-to-face work is essential to building and maintaining trust with community partners when conducting authentic community-engaged research. However, when physical distancing is required to protect public health, new ways of nurturing relationships and meeting research aims are needed.

The webinar highlighted three unique projects addressing different community environmental concerns and questions.

  • Industrial exposures in rural Appalachian communities.
  • Arsenic exposures in drinking water on tribal lands in North Dakota and South Dakota.
  • Exposure and health effects from brominated flame-retardants in communities throughout Michigan.

Co-presented by community and academic partners, the teams described the challenges faced and the strategies they are using to sustain their relationships and meet the project aims.

Presentations

Experts

Presentation 1: Adapting Partnerships During Crisis: Deepening and Expanding

Erin Haynes

Erin Haynes, Dr.P.H., is the Kurt W. Deuschle Professor in Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health. She earned her M.S. in Toxicology from the University of Cincinnati and her DrPH in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. She has worked with communities to help understand their environmental exposure for nearly two decades. She is currently Chair of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health and deputy director of the Environmental Health Sciences Core Center at the University of Kentucky.

Presentation 2: Participatory Interventions to Reduce Arsenic Exposure in American Indian Communities

Christine Marie George

Christine Marie George, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of International Health. She is an environmental epidemiologist and environmental engineer whose career focuses on identifying transmission routes for environmental exposures and the development of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions to intervene upon these identified transmission routes. She has been working on WASH projects domestically and internationally for 15 years. She is a principal investigator of a grant (1R01ES025135) called "Participatory Interventions to Reduce Arsenic Exposure in American Indian Communities.

Reno L. Red Cloud Sr.

Reno L. Red Cloud Sr. is a sixth-generation descendant of the Oglala Lakota ‘Chief Red Cloud’. He graduated from San Jose High School in 1978 and then came back home to work for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He is a Oglala Sioux Tribe, Natural Resources Regulatory Agency/Water Resources Department, Administrator and a board member of the Great Plains Tribal Water Alliance, OST Environmental Health Technical Team, and Missouri River Recovery and Implementation Committee. He has worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe for over 30 years in different Water Programs.

Marcia O'Leary

Marcia O’Leary is the CEO of Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc. (MBIRI). She is also project coordinator of the Dakota Field Center Strong Heart Study, a member of the Strong Heart Steering Committee, and a registered nurse. A lifelong resident of the Dakotas and a community member, O’Leary has developed professional relationships with medical providers, Tribal leadership and community members from the region. With her husband (an enrolled Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal member), they have developed a Native owned research group (MBIRI) that is dedicated to researching pertinent health issues in rural American Indian communities and to reinvesting time and talent back into the Tribal communities through training and hiring practices.

Tracy Zacher

Tracy Zacher, RN, is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and has been managing research studies throughout the Oglala Sioux Tribe (i.e., Pine Ridge Reservation) since 2011. From 2011 – 2017 she was the OST based Field Office Director for the University of Colorado managing their research studies. From 2017 to present she has been the field office director for Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc (MBIRI) for their OST field site. MBIRI is a company that conducts research studies on three tribal communities in the Dakotas for various institutions throughout the country.

Presentation 3: The Michigan PBB Registry: Community Partners Provide a Way Forward During the Pandemic

Bonnie Havlicek

Bonnie Havlicek, RN, BSN, was born and raised in southeast Michigan on a small hobby farm and first heard about the 1974 PBB contamination incident as a nursing student at the University of Michigan. She began her career as a registered nurse working in a variety of critical care settings until she “discovered” Public Health and made a goal to prevent health conditions that lead to critical care hospitalizations. As Director of Community Health and Education for Mid-Michigan District Health Department, she became aware of the long-lasting effects of the 1974 PBB contamination and became involved in supporting the Emory University research projects. Her commitment to the project has continued through her employment as a community nutrition instructor with Michigan State University Extension and now as a retiree and small fiber farm owner.

Michele Marcus

Michele Marcus Ph.D., is Professor of Epidemiology, Environmental Health and Pediatrics at Emory University. She has over 30 years of experience conducting health studies of environmental exposures. She leads a long-term health study of those exposed to a brominated flame retardant in close collaboration with community partners. Her work has been recognized with awards for outstanding scientific contributions from the CDC and the EPA. She has served on federal expert panels reviewing health effects of electromagnetic fields, bisphenol A, phthalates, gene and environment interactions and service in the Persian Gulf War. She served on the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine Committee on dioxin exposure among Vietnam veterans. She has served in leadership positions at Emory including Director of Graduate Studies, interim chair for the Department of Epidemiology and co-director of the Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit.

Melanie Pearson

Melanie Pearson, Ph.D., leads the Community Engagement Core of the Emory HERCULES Exposome Research Center. She works with a state-wide community of farmers, former chemical workers, residents, and their children who suffer from an industrial mistake that led to polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) being mixed into livestock feed, resulting in the contamination of food products distributed throughout the state of Michigan in the 1970s. This work has led to in-depth engagement with the community near the former chemical plant responsible for both the industrial mix-up as well as the waste practices of three Superfund sites. This collaboration with the affected community, a local non-profit, a district health department, and the research team led to an NIEHS-funded Research to Action grant. She seeks to integrate the exposome concept into her projects. She developed engagement strategies with the dual-purpose of strengthening the capacity of an Atlanta community to address its environmental health concerns and to create a feedback system so that the community’s concerns and ideas are shared with the scientists.

For More Information

University of Kentucky College of Public Health, Communities Actively Researching Exposure Study (CARES).

We Want Your Feedback!

Send comments, questions, and suggestions for future webinar topics to peph@niehs.nih.gov.

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