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Purdue partners with the state to improve post-pandemic public health

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The COVID-19 pandemic, and the toll it has taken on our communities, has underscored for public health the devastating social and racial inequities that exist within the state of Indiana and has made clear the need to remove obstacles to health for all Hoosiers.

Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering (RCHE) at Purdue University and the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) are partnering on a new initiative to ensure that all Hoosiers have better access to the resources needed to achieve better health. Through the Indiana Healthy Opportunities for People Everywhere (I-HOPE) initiative, Purdue will collaborate with almost 100 statewide partners to help tackle the obstacles that prevent people from living healthy lives.

“The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but it has hit some communities especially hard,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, Purdue executive director of health equity initiatives. Adams is an RCHE faculty member, Presidential Fellow, professor of practice in the Department of Pharmacy Practice in the College of Pharmacy and professor in the Department of Public Health in the College of Health and Human Sciences. “In a time when we are still coping with the direct effects of COVID-19, we also must factor in the secondary impact of the virus while better preparing Indiana for what the future may bring. I-HOPE offers a unique opportunity to make sure that everyone has access to the resources needed to better weather future health challenges.”

Funded for two years by a $34.8 million grant to the IDOH from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and led by the state in partnership with Purdue, I-HOPE aims to reduce systemic health and social inequities, with specific emphasis on the health disparities experienced by ethnic and minority groups and rural communities. The IDOH awarded Purdue $10.4 million to administer the initiative’s engagement and communication efforts in counties considered most vulnerable to pandemics based on national rankings for chronic disease, vaccination rates, substance use disorder, and other factors that lead to increased mortality rates. With priority going to the counties ranked highest on the 2021 COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index and the 2016 Social Vulnerability IndexPurdue will enage five counties before the end of the first grant year followed by an additional 25 counties in 2022.

The 30-county engagement plan includes the following counties in 2021-22: Cass, Daviess, Elkhart, Lake, and Wayne, then will expand in 2022-23 to Adams, Allen, Blackford, Clark, Clinton, Delaware, Fayette, Grant, Jackson, Jay, Jefferson, Kosciusko, La Porte, Madison, Marshall, Noble, Orange, Ripley, Scott, St. Joseph, Sullivan, Switzerland, Tipton, Vanderburgh, and Vigo. Additional I-HOPE partners will collaborate in almost all 92 counties on a variety of projects.

Pavlos Vlachos, the St. Vincent Health Professor of Healthcare Engineering and RCHE director, is excited about the promise of innovation that comes with I-HOPE.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to reduce health disparities doesn’t work because every community has different strengths and needs,” Vlachos said. “We’ve structured I-HOPE’s approach to be participatory and to ensure community voices are heard, community networks strengthened, and community capabilities enhanced and elevated.”

Field implementation teams of health equity analysts, health systems process improvement experts, data analysts, and extension educators from RCHE’s Purdue Healthcare Advisors will reach out to critical stakeholders — clinicians, pharmacies, employers, faith leaders, businesses, coalitions and others affiliated with groups at higher-risk and that are underserved — to inform community-level public health strategies, execute community-selected improvement projects, and support these projects with linguistically and culturally appropriate communications campaigns.

“Purdue’s role in I-HOPE is to boost local strengths and build inclusive networks to connect people to needed health services,” said Melanie Cline, RCHE assistant director and the Purdue lead for I-HOPE. “We will seek innovative ways to approach community-identified health priorities, run rapid improvement cycles designed to tackle systemic barriers, and learn quickly to spread ideas between communities.”

Purdue Extension, which has been a trusted source in all of Indiana’s counties for more than 100 years, will play a key role in I-HOPE by helping to connect field teams to local stakeholders. The Brian Lamb School for Communication will provide resources and support for customized, local communications campaigns, the College of Health and Human Sciences will support the evaluation of the grant, and the Purdue-affiliated Connections IN Health will lend its expertise and resources.

About the Regenstrief Center for Heathcare Engineering

The Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering at Purdue University operates under the mission of pursuing a proactive, patient-centered, and wellness-focused health care delivery system. RCHE’s team is composed of researchers, staff members, and outreach advisors to the health care industry who collaborate with providers to develop science-based approaches to personalized care, implement health innovation at the organizational and community level, and improve access to care among the underserved and in rural communities in Indiana and around the world. Learn more about RCHE:

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last four years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at 

Sources: Palvos Vlachos, Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering (RCHE)

Melanie Cline, RCHE’s Purdue Healthcare Advisors

Angela Abbott, Purdue Extension

Marifran Mattson, Professor and Head, Brian Lamb School of Communication

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