Monday, August 20, 2012

Succeeding at Community Engagement

Two organizations share their innovative approaches

Organizations often tell us they’re unsure how best to meet AAHRPP requirements for community involvement. Two institutions—Rush University Medical Center and the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC)—achieve this standard by tapping into community networks, drawing on researchers’ connections, and reaching out to surrounding community members at home and in their neighborhoods.

“An important feature of most of our community studies is that we don’t expect the participants to come to us,” says Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., Assistant Provost for Community Research at Rush. “Instead, we train people to meet and work with participants in their own communities.”

Both Rush and UNM HSC emphasize that communication is key. “We listen first. That’s how meaningful community engagement begins,” says Corey Ford, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean for Research at UNM HSC.

Rush: A Distinctive Record
Rush was awarded AAHRPP accreditation in June and met Standard I-4 with distinction because of the medical center’s community programs. This accomplishment reflects Rush’s long-standing commitment to community research, education, and intervention.

According to Mary Jane Welch, D.N.P., A.P.R.N., B.C., C.I.P., Director, Human Subjects’ Protection at Rush, one of the easiest, most effective ways to increase community awareness of research is to take advantage of existing outreach efforts. The Human Subjects’ Protection office partnered with the Rush Generations Program for Health and Aging and now participates in Generations events, providing information and answering questions about research. The Human Subjects’ Protection office also staffs a table at Rush’s semiannual community health fairs.

“At first, we didn’t get much interest,” Dr. Welch says. “But now, people look forward to it and call us ahead of time to make sure we’ll be there.”

Rush also partners with other educational institutions. Along with the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rush is a member of the Chicago Consortium for Community Engagement. The consortium’s accomplishments include the development of a human subjects training curriculum for community partners and the establishment of an inter-institutional committee to increase the diversity of participants in clinical trials.

UNM HSC: Collaborating With HEROs, Pueblos
UNM HSC engages the community at patient care, education, and research sites across New Mexico. In 2011, the university took part in 576 activities in 179 communities.

Among UNM HSC’s most successful outreach efforts is its statewide network of Health Extension Rural Offices (HEROs). HERO agents live and work within the community and connect the community with university resources in education, clinical service, and research. Agents bring the latest research and health care practices to the community and act as the community’s advocate with UNM HSC. They voice community concerns, serve on the institutional review board (IRB), and offer input on research and health issues.

UNM HSC also partners with tribal communities to make sure research studies respect the values of New Mexico’s Native American population. UNM HSC provides IRB services for 16 of the state’s 19 pueblos. Researcher training includes extended modules on cultural sensitivity and other issues unique to community research.

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