“The innovation of HealthStreet is that we are reaching out to people who are usually not given a voice in research,” said Linda B. Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., HealthStreet’s founding director and chair of the UF department of epidemiology at the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine.

On a morning in early February, HealthStreet’s Karla King offered Gainesville resident Helane Davis, 87, a free blood pressure test at the Senior Recreation Center. Davis hesitated at first, but she suspected something might not be quite right with her health, so she agreed.

Davis, who exercised regularly at a health club and walked every day, was surprised to learn that her blood pressure was extremely high. Because Davis did not have a primary care physician, King referred her to the University of Florida’s no-cost Mobile Outreach Clinic and urged her to seek treatment right away.

Davis feels certain that without King’s intervention, her blood pressure would have gone undiagnosed until it led to a serious health event.

“When Karla called me later to follow up, I thanked her profusely and told her, ‘You saved my life,’” said Davis, who is now receiving care at UF Health. “I’m grateful to the Lord, grateful to Karla and grateful to HealthStreet.”

Dr. David Fedele and graduate students Marie Chardon and Casey Lawless meet with Gerquon (third from left) and Elizabeth (far right), participants in Fedele's pediatric asthma management study. Study meetings are held at HealthStreet's community center.

Dr. David Fedele and graduate students Marie Chardon and Casey Lawless meet with Gerquon (third from left) and Elizabeth (far right), participants in Fedele’s pediatric asthma management study. Study meetings are held at HealthStreet’s community center.

Linking community members to social and medical services is one aim of HealthStreet, which launched in 2011 and is supported jointly by UF’s College of Medicine, College of Public Health and Health Professions and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. HealthStreet also seeks to connect people to opportunities to participate in health research as part of a goal to reduce health disparities. King and other HealthStreet community health workers meet with residents at local gathering spots such as laundromats, libraries, bus stops, community centers, health fairs, and churches to assess health concerns and provide referrals for services and research opportunities. “Our model includes the community health worker, someone who is a peer and can make people feel comfortable.”

More than 80,000 clinical trials are conducted each year in the United States, yet less than 2 percent of the population participates in them. Women, older adults, racial and ethnic minorities and rural residents are often underrepresented, making it difficult for researchers to know if medications and treatments will work in diverse populations.

HealthStreet, with locations in Gainesville and Jacksonville, has contacted 7,650 community members, leading to 1,300 people enrolling in UF research studies.

In addition, staff members have provided more than 10,000 health screenings, services and referrals to HealthStreet members. Information gathered by community health workers in one-on-one interviews becomes part of HealthStreet’s database of thousands of community members who can be contacted about future research opportunities. The data also allows HealthStreet researchers to analyze residents’ top health concerns and track their healthcare usage and satisfaction with their care.

David Fedele Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical and health psychology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, has worked with HealthStreet to recruit participants for his pediatric asthma management study. Typically, recruitment efforts would focus on patients at UF Health’s Pediatric Asthma Center, but that approach doesn’t reach people who are not receiving treatment, Fedele said. “HealthStreet staff members are on the ground in the community talking to people and making connections,” Fedele said. “They have helped us get the word out and recruit for a broad range of families in the community that we might not have had access to otherwise.”

HealthStreet is also increasing interactions between health researchers and the community through its “Our Community, Our Health” forums, which invite scientists to share research findings with community members. HealthStreet held its first national forum in April with people in 27 cities around the country participating through live-stream presentations and text messaging. “We hope to continue to incorporate social media into these forums so we can reach a lot more people with conversations in real time,” said Vicki Piazza, HealthStreet’s manager. “That way, we can talk to people about their health needs and concerns and link them up to all different kinds of research opportunities, no matter where they are.”

Here in Gainesville, HealthStreet offers a number of no-cost services and programs at its community center at 2401 SW Archer Road, including health workshops, support group meetings, free HIV testing and counseling, access to computers and healthy cooking classes. A toiletry pantry and clothing closet are available to members three days a week. “At HealthStreet, we believe that it really is all about relationships,” said Catherine Striley, Ph.D., M.S.W., M.P.E., co-director of HealthStreet and an assistant professor of epidemiology. “We build trust one person at a time, serving as a conduit to university and community resources and providing ongoing opportunities to influence the research enterprise and improve the health of our community.”

Jill Pease is Public Relations Director of the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida.

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