Research News

Vanderbilt joins TSU, Meharry and the Congregational Health and Education Network on $4M NIH grant to address social factors in health

Sharon Jones, assistant professor of nursing, and David G. Schlundt, associate professor of psychology, are participating in a collaborative research project to address health disparities and advance health equity in Nashville.  

The five-year projectEngaging Partners in Caring Communities (EPICC): Building capacity to implement health promotion programs in African American churches—is being supported by a $4 million National Institutes of Health grant through the Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative. The initiative was “created to support unusually innovative research projects, which, if successful, would have a major impact in developing, disseminating, or implementing innovative and effective interventions that prevent, reduce, or eliminate health disparities and health inequities,” according to the effort’s website. 

The work is being led by Rebecca Selove, director of TSU’s Center for Prevention ResearchJemal Gishe, assistant professor of public health, health administration and health sciences at TSU, and Leah R. Alexander, associate professor in Meharry Medical College’s division of public health practice. Rev. Omaràn Lee, director of the Congregational Health and Education Network (CHEN), and Rev. Neely Williams will contribute their expertise to the project.

“Educating people to improve their health literacy and be involved in their own health plan is a core piece of what nurses do every day,” Jones said. “I’m excited that we’re launching this major community-based research project incorporating Nashville General’s CHEN, as well as community advocates, key personnel and consultants. It is vital that we as a community and a society find solutions that mitigate health inequities and overcome health challenges.” 

The goal of the EPICC project is to reduce health disparities associated with chronic health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer by supporting delivery of evidence-based health promotion programs in churches serving African American communities.  

The researchers will work with 30 Nashville-area churches to develop teams who will deploy federally approved and evidence-based programs that promote healthy behaviors. Technology will support the work and review performance in real time, and the researchers will bring the teams together to identify and address social determinants of health that add challenges to achieving health equity. 

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with the academic team and Rev. Lee in learning how to expand the capacity of African American churches to offer research-tested health promotion programs in their congregations,” said Selove, also adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Vanderbilt. 

“EPICC has brought together all the right community partners to help Nashville church congregations enhance the health and well-being of their members,” Schlundt said. “Embracing Vanderbilt’s strong commitment to collaborative, interdisciplinary research and community outreach, we have created a multidisciplinary team that forms an equal partnership with community stakeholders to address health disparities.”