A new research center at The University of Toledo aims to address the deep and complex questions about improving equity in health and healthcare, an issue that has again been laid bare by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Health is a fundamental human right. At the foundation of everything, each one of us has the right to survive, live and thrive. Unfortunately, we continue to see significant health disparities — even in our own community,” said Dr. Shipra Singh, an associate professor in the School of Population Health in the UToledo College of Health and Human Services.
As founding director of UToledo’s newly established Health Equity Research Center, which is housed in the College of Health and Human Services, Singh is working to advance health equity and social justice in northwest Ohio and beyond, particularly for historically marginalized groups.
A key part of the center’s focus is interdisciplinary research. The board includes UToledo faculty experts from the fields of public health, social work, law and geography and urban planning.
“Too often these issues are seen as strictly clinical in nature,” Singh said. “We need to focus on expanding interventions beyond the clinic to make real, lasting changes. That takes interdisciplinary research. These complex drivers of disparity cannot be addressed only by public health expertise.”
Singh’s current research is focused on health disparities in minority communities and health utilization — understanding how people access the healthcare system and what barriers may prevent them from doing so.
She also is a co-investigator on a project funded by the Ohio Department of Medicaid that uses virtual reality training to improve medical providers’ cultural competency and help them better understand barriers to healthcare faced by marginalized and vulnerable populations.
In the short term, the center is working to establish a consortium of researchers from across the University and other local partners with a goal of delivering high-impact, translational research that improves community well-being.
Eventually, Singh aims to build the Health Equity Research Center into a leading externally funded research group.
“Issues of health equity and health disparities are complex, but we all have a moral, ethical duty to step up,” Singh said. “There is no one single solution, but UToledo has the expertise to make a difference. We need to cross disciplinary boundaries and find solutions collaboratively.”
The center’s board members are Dr. Sujata Shetty, professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and director of the Jack Ford Urban Affairs Center; Shelley Cavalieri, professor of law; Dr. Heather Sloane, associate professor of social work; Dr. Erica Czaja, assistant professor of health education and public health; and Dr. Mounika Polavarapu, assistant professor in the School of Population Health.