Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine (SOM) Department of Population Science and Policy (PSP) was founded to take a new approach to health care that bridges data, health care delivery and social and environmental determinants of health. Approximately 45% of SIU SOM graduates practice in rural areas, but SIU SOM leaders aimed to make an even greater impact by extending SIU Medicine’s reach past the traditional confines of a hospital or clinic. Therefore, the School of Medicine created a new department to educate the next generation of physicians to consider social determinants of health in their practice and to advance a paradigm of healthcare that works within communities to identify and close health disparities.
… leaders aimed to make an even greater impact by extending SIU Medicine’s reach past the traditional confines of a hospital or clinic.
SIU SOM’s service region encompasses 66 mostly-rural counties, including 22 of the 25 counties with the poorest health outcomes in Illinois. The residents PSP serves face greater geographic isolation, lower socioeconomic status, higher rates of health risk behaviors, and limited job opportunities compared to the rest of our state. Higher rates of chronic illness and poor overall health are found in Illinois’s rural communities. However, that same region is home to innovative and inspiring work to improve health.
PSP’s unique model works directly within communities by deploying an interdisciplinary team to collect and analyze data, reach across traditional silos, and design and implement interventions to improve the health of populations. PSP also acts as a consultant to recommend interventions and policies (on the hyper-local, community, state, and national levels) to ensure that methods of positive health outcome improvement become sustainable. Typical partners include hospitals and healthcare systems, school districts, nonprofits, police departments, and the justice system. Finally, PSP is responsible for creating an academic curriculum for the School of Medicine to teach future physicians how to improve the health of patients both inside and outside the walls of the clinic.
PSP consists of three divisions: The Epidemiology and Biostatistics Division gathers and analyzes data, Human and Community Development collaborates with communities to identify and implement effective solutions to improve health through mixed methods research, and Health System Science uses evidence-based research to inform and improve local, state, and national policies that affect the health of populations. The Department of Population Science and Policy is moving the dial on health in some of Illinois’ unhealthiest communities.
The Department is currently working on many exciting, important projects to improve health, development, and wellness of residents in its service area.
Illinois Rural Health Summit: SIU School of Medicine Department of Population Science and Policy, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, UIC School of Public Health, SIU School of Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, and the Illinois Department of Public Health hosted an influential group of rural health experts and stakeholders at the 2018 Illinois Rural Health Summit in Springfield, Illinois, on August 6-7, 2018. The two-day event gathered information and inspiration to draft and execute a blueprint to improve the health of rural Illinois residents. Rural Health Summit organizers have released an initial report, “The State of Rural Health in Illinois: Great Challenges and a Path Forward” that outlines significant challenges and health disparities faced rural resident face compared with residents in the state’s metropolitan areas. Physician shortages, opioid use, childhood disparities, an aging population, obesity, housing, and the rural economy were identified as major barriers to rural communities’ health improvement. Summit organizers and participants continue to work with legislators, rural health experts, and stakeholders to make policy recommendations to benefit rural health.
Physician shortages, opioid use, childhood disparities, an aging population, obesity, housing, and the rural economy were identified as major barriers to rural communities’ health improvement
The Rural Health Summit also helped to guide PSP’s priorities. Other projects include:
Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: The Department of Population Science and Policy is collaborating with the University of Chicago on a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded project called “Ending the Transmission of HIV, HCV, STIs and Overdose in Rural Communities.” Outbreaks of HIV, HCV, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in rural Midwest areas have been associated with syringe-sharing among people who inject drugs such as heroin and other opioids. Illinois is the US state with the third-highest percent increase in death rates involving synthetic opiates. The southernmost 16 counties of Illinois comprise the Illinois Delta Region and share many of the characteristics of rural areas that have experienced recent HIV epidemics. In order to develop effective disease prevention and treatment, we need a deeper understanding of the context of injection drug use in rural southern Illinois, including community characteristics, circumstances for high-risk injection practices, and accessibility to health-related resources.
Cancer Health Disparities: Cancer disparities in the United States exist among distinct community populations most notably categorized by geography, income level, and race/ethnicity, where higher cancer risks and worse outcomes persist. Although poverty is often associated with health disparities, impoverished rural communities are often overlooked and underrepresented in research studies, even in the most economically distressed areas in the nation. Rural counties frequently are Medically Underserved Areas (MUAs) and Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Rural populations experience lower access to health care along the dimensions of affordability, proximity, and quality, compared with their urban counterparts. They often experience higher rates of cancer, poorer survival, and less utilization of preventive services. Recent data indicate that the health gap between rural and other residents is widening.
Recent data indicate that the health gap between rural and other residents is widening.
Creating a Trauma-Informed Environment in Illinois Schools: Childhood trauma can have a direct, immediate, and potentially hazardous impact on a child’s ability to develop and learn. Defined as a response to a negative event or series of events which surpass a child’s ordinary coping skills, trauma comes in many forms, including maltreatment, witnessing violence, or loss of a loved one. These events, collectively referred to as adverse childhood experiences, can interfere with brain development, learning, and behavior – each potentially impacting academic success and health outcomes.
Schools have an essential role to play in providing stability and safe space for children and connecting them to caring adults. Evidence-supported, trauma-informed models have been incorporated in systems across the country, leading to more trauma-informed care. Our team brought together an interdisciplinary coalition to creatively embed this approach in a rural and urban county in our state.
Generation Health Food and Values Survey: A pilot study called “Generation Health: A Qualitative Exploration of Food and Value System in Douglas County” explores Douglas County residents’ view of food and nutrition in the context of health and wellbeing. The project will examine perceptions across three generations: children, parents, and grandparents. As caregivers, their values, attitudes, and cultural preferences for nutrition are passed down.
The Department of Population Science and Policy is always looking for ways to share, inform and expand our work. To learn more or to inquire about potential collaboration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.