Researchers’ work focused on social determinants of health lands prestigious endowment

Two MUSC researchers were recently awarded a $330,000 grant from The Duke Endowment. Chanita Hughes-Halbert, Ph.D., and Anita Ramsetty, M.D., received the honor to assist with their work to identify and address social determinants of health among primary care patients.

Headshot of Hughes-Halbert

“One of the things that is really great about this work is it combines so many different aspects of MUSC,” said Hughes-Halbert. “It addresses issues in our community and across the state. The Endowment will help us build upon the work we’ve already started but can take even further now.”

According to Hughes-Halbert, South Carolina ranks worst in the country for food insecurity in older adults, with rates of 20% among people over age 60. Compelling evidence links food insecurity with adverse health outcomes such as depression and chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The endowment has previously funded six health systems across the Carolinas in similar areas in the hopes of advancing statewide alignment of efforts and infrastructure to address these social determinants of health.

“We’ve all been working on this in a parallel universe,” she said, “but now, this finally brings us together.”

Headshot of Anita Ramsetty

Ramsetty agreed. “Every day, there is a small improvement in addressing these inequities, but a major finish line would be developing a system where we could link patients’ needs in a much more efficient way,” she added. “I fully believe we can do this. It’s sort of similar to cruise control. Once it’s built, it will work. We’re trying to make it so easy and seamless that people will use it. We have clinicians who care. We have patients who need it. And we have services that want to help. This feels like we might finally be connecting them all.”

MUSC will join the effort by implementing a primary care practice transformation project to improve health outcomes by increasing access to healthy foods. Primary care practices will systematically screen for food insecurity and use patient navigators to implement patient-centered interventions with community partners. The program will leverage enhanced data analytics, electronic patient records and clinical workflows to develop a scalable and equitable model for primary care implementation. Data analytics, for instance, can help the team answer important questions and identify patterns earlier so they can intervene faster and more precisely for their patients.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Hughes-Halbert. “The Duke Endowment is a prestigious foundation, and the process is very competitive. To be funded by them is a real honor.”

Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $4 billion in grants. And while the endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, all are separate organizations.

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