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Health of Houston Initiative Receives $2.6M Gift from Houston Endowment

The Health of Houston Initiative, composed of three projects within The University of Texas at Houston School of Public Health under the auspices of the Institute for Health Policy, has been awarded a multi-year, multimillion dollar grant from Houston Endowment Inc.

Roberta Ness

Roberta B. Ness, M.D., M.P.H.

The $2,652,000 grant will be disbursed over three years. The Greater Houston Health Interview Survey, led by Stephen Linder, Ph.D., professor in the Management and Policy Sciences Division and interim director of the institute, will receive three annual installments of $500,000. The Mental Health Policy Analysis Collaborative, led by Bill Schnapp, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UT-Houston Medical School in conjunction with faculty members from Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston and Rice University, will receive three annual payments of $230,000. The Houston Health Services Research Collaborative, led by Charles Begley, Ph.D., a professor of management, policy and community health, received an installment of $212,000 in 2008 and will receive $150,000 in 2009 and $100,000 in 2010.

"The Health of Houston Initiative provides essential information on the current status of the health of Houston-area residents," said School of Public Health Director of Development Cathy Merriman. "That information will form the basis for strategically planning health services in the future."

"This grant will enable the three initiatives to provide in-depth research and policy reports on major issues and questions facing policymakers," said Linder. "With evidence- based research regarding the current health care concerns and issues of the community, community leaders and government officials will be better able to make more informed decisions about the nature of the problems and the solutions to improve Houston's current health care and public health delivery systems."

The Greater Houston Health Interview Survey, modeled after the California Health Interview Survey and the World Health Organization's World Health Survey, will be a comprehensive, biennial survey of between 3,000 and 4,000 households in the greater Houston area. "The intent is to develop a reliable, efficient and flexible survey vehicle for tracking emerging health issues, assessing the impact of health programs and documenting health improvements in valid and fully-comparable ways," said Linder. The survey will focus on at least one adult and, if applicable, one child in each household. This will be the first survey of its kind in the Houston area. Once the first survey is completed, the Institute for Health Policy will develop and interpret the survey results and establish a network for dissemination that will extend from neighborhood providers to local health and disaster planning officials.

The Mental Health Policy Analysis Collaborative will conduct policy analyses of current mental health issues of major importance to Texas and produce in-depth reports of its findings.

"We are specifically interested in determining the effects of an insufficient mental health service system on the citizens of Houston, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in Houston, whether mental health treatment of juveniles in the justice system influences long-term recidivism, the clinical and social consequences of Texas' mental health service system rationing policy, how funding policies define Houston's mental health service system, if people with private insurance are treated differently from their uninsured peers in the mental services system, and how the primary health care and mental health systems may be better coordinated and integrated," said Schnapp.

"There are many examples of inappropriately developed, wrongly implemented and poorly evaluated mental health public policies," he added. "Needs assessment, policy analysis and development, together with evaluation of policy and service initiatives, are of a paramount importance if mental health is to be promoted and mental illness effectively treated."

The Houston Health Services Research Collaborative will use its grant for five major projects over three years. These projects include a study to identify a best practices model for the Houston safety net system, a study of inpatient hospitalizations for preventable conditions, research into the characteristics of the uninsured and underinsured populations, the use of hospital emergency rooms as a source of primary care, and monitoring primary care capacity and performance.

"Over a third of the population of Houston is uninsured, underinsured, or receive Medicaid" said Begley. "This population - which can be as many as one and a half million people - have limited access to medical care and are more likely to turn to health care safety net providers. The purpose of our research is to address the information and research needs of policymakers as they work to develop a coordinated health care and public health system that adequately serves the entire community and meets the demand for services at the lowest cost."

"We truly appreciate this gift from the Houston Endowment and the trust they place in the UT School of Public Health and this institute to provide scientific information for the formulation of future public health policy and practice for the Houston area," said Roberta B. Ness, M.D., dean of the School of Public Health.

By Shannon Rasp for Institutional Advancement