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Thursday, September 1

The Midwest Latino Health Research Training & Policy Center

Aida L. Maisonet Giachello, PhD

The Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW)
University Of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)

As part of the National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 2011) the NASW Illinois Chapter is highlighting the work of the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training & Policy Center (The Latino Center) at the Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW), University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

The Latino Center was established in 1993 with funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Service (USDHHS) Public Health Services (PHS)-Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now called Agency for Health Care Quality). The rationale for proposing this center was due to several factors: a) rapid growth of Hispanics/Latinos in the Midwest region (e.g., Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin); b) Hispanics/Latinos health and social disparities; c) limitation of available research and data, c) lack of community involvement in the assessment of needs and assets, and d) shortage of Hispanics/Latinos health professionals (including minority researchers). The Latino Center was founded by Aida L Giachello, MA, PhD, a social worker with a PhD in Medical Sociology from The University of Chicago who was born and raised in San Juan Puerto Rico, and who always have had a passion for applied research.

Latino Research Center’s Goals:

The long-term goals were and still are to improve the health and social well-being of Latinos/Hispanics and their health quality of life by engaging in the following activities:

  • Conducting health and social disparities research.
  • Providing mechanisms for communication, coordination, networking, and information dissemination, including translational research to consumers, services providers, researchers, and community-based organizations.
  • Engaging in community capacity-building through the provision of technical assistance and training to diverse audiences such as health professionals, community-based organizations, community lay health workers (health promoters), hospitals, and neighborhood health facilities.
  • Increasing the pool of culturally and methodologically competent Latino and non-Latino faculty, students, and community practitioners in research and in the provision of culturally, linguistically, and health literacy appropriate services.

The Latino Center’s work has been primarily in the area of chronic diseases (i.e., diabetes, hypertension, asthma), but has conducted research in the areas of maternal and child health (e.g., pregnancy outcomes, adolescent pregnancy), occupational health/social discrimination in the workplace, injury prevention, child welfare, and genetics education, among others.

Latino Research Center Philosophy

The center’s philosophy is one of re-framing the research agenda on Hispanics/Latinos and other racial and ethnic minority populations. The research process on these populations has traditionally included methods of observation and criteria for validating facts and theories that intentionally or unintentionally have been designed to justify pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes of these populations. Research on Latinos and other minorities have not always been “scientific,” “ethical,” “objective,” or “useful.” Therefore the center agenda has also focused on unlearning “old knowledge” (which is as important as learning new knowledge), and on moving the research process from research on Latinos, to research with Latinos. This is particularly important due to shortage of researchers that understand the language, the culture, the history of immigrant, and social determinants (e.g., housing, employment, occupation income, education) affecting Latino health.

The center has pursued an agenda of social justice based on social work values that are embedded in humanitarian and democratic values of respect and dignity, and individual and community self-determination. The center’s position has been that Hispanics/Latinos and other minorities and vulnerable populations have the right to affordable, accessible, linguistic, culturally, gendered, and health literacy–appropriate health and mental health services. The United States health and human services system tends to be middle-class oriented, with a series of organizational policies and practices, and biases toward the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and women as a group. It has limited flexibility to meet the needs of populations who may have different illnesses, cultural practices, or languages. These factors affect the quality of services delivered to these populations, their adherence to treatment, and ultimately their health outcomes and social well-being.

Community-Based Participatory Action Research (CPAR)

Due to Giachello’s social work training as a community organizer at The University of Chicago School of Social Services (SSA), she used her organizing skills to mobilize communities for action and to form diverse coalitions in Chicago—and throughout the United States—using health and social issues as topics for mobilization. Regarding this approach, Margaret S. Sherraden (2010) stated that Giachello and her collaborators have developed innovative and effective models based on popular education ideas of Paulo Freire and that CPAR combines “reflective thinking about circumstances and root causes of health problems with principles of adult education and community organizing.” The CPAR model developed by Giachello includes six steps summarized by Sherraden (2010:90) as follows:

  1. Community engagement through partnership and coalition-building using health and social issues as tools for community mobilization.
  2. Community capacity-building, in which community leaders learn about key health issues in the community, as well as the socio-political and economic context.
  3. Participatory data collection and analyses, in which community members engage in needs and asset assessments, such as community mapping, focus groups, community surveys, and Photovoice (technique of using photos to document a grassroots issue).
  4. Information dissemination during which community researchers provide evidence and offer directions for community action through town hall meetings and community forums.
  5. Action planning, in which a broader group of community members develop strategic community action plans for changing health and social conditions.
  6. Community social action, in which community members implement the action.

Key Accomplishments

In the last eighteen years since the Latino Research Center was formed, the center has:

  • Mentored a new generation of researchers and community organizers (Sherraden, 2010). It has trained numerous high schools, undergraduate, and graduate students, pre- and post-doctorate and fellows, faculty and community health and human services practitioners, including community physicians and community lay health workers. Most of the students and center staff have continued their education and are currently working in leadership roles. In her teaching, Giachello also engages social work students in the same way as she does the community. She stresses community work and the commitment toward social justice.
  • Has been instrumental in the formation of health and human services organizations in Chicago, the Midwest Region, and across the United States.
  • Engaged in capacity-building through the development of curricula and toolkits that have been used to educate the community on issues such as genetics, management and control of diabetes, advocacy and policy work, among other areas. The center has organized local and regional training seminars and conferences on health disparities, health needs of the elderly, clinical trials, diabetes, and on many other topics of community interest.
  • Obtained funding to engage in numerous research projects from the local and federal government, and private foundations and corporations (e.g., pharmaceuticals).

Before her retirement from UIC and the Latino Research Center, Giachello obtained funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a Center of Excellence in the Elimination of Disparities (CEED) through Community and System Change in partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health and the UIC Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. This new center was aimed at contributing to the elimination of diabetes and cardiovascular conditions affecting African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos. CEED is addressing the social determinants of health. It is improving the distribution of healthy food, promoting the local production of food by removing policy barriers to community-based agriculture, and increasing access to data to help policy makers make informed decision in this area. CEED has developed a much larger metropolitan coalition that includes businesses (particularly in the food industry), government, academic institutions, health professionals, and community-based and health and human services professional organizations and policy-makers (http://www.ceedchicago.org).

Also in partnership with Westat, Inc., Research Corporation located in the Washington, DC, area and with funding from the USDHHS Office of Minority Health, and the Latino Center is working in a Patient-Center Care Collaborative (PCCC) aimed at developing, implementing, and evaluating and disseminating interventions to reduce obesity, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes in selected minority communities. Most recently, the project implemented a one-day seminar on the role of health information technology in improving minority health.

Sherraden, Margaret S. (2010). Aida L. Maisonet Giachello: Improving health in the Latino community. In Alice Lieberman (ed.), Women in social work who have changed the world. Alice Lieberman (editor). Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books, Inc.

Aida L. Maisonet Giachello, PhD, is currently professor at Northwestern University Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine where she serves as Co-Principal Investigator of the Chicago Field Center of the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). This is the largest Hispanic cardiovascular study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institutes (NHLBI), and other centers and institutes.



Posted on 09/01/11 at 08:28 AM


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