Dr. Tricia Penniecook joins national effort to address health inequities in chronic diseases

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To prevent diabetes USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Tricia Penniecook says we must start “upstream.”

Penniecook, vice dean for education and faculty affairs, is currently serving a one-year term as a fellow of the National Leadership Academy for the Public Health’s (NLAPH) cohort 8.

Each year, the NLAPH chooses cohorts of leaders from across the country to address health equity in the community, advance leadership skills and create “healthier environments.”

Dr. Tricia Penniecook. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Tricia Penniecook)

Cohorts work as a team in their respective states to address an applied population health issue of their choice while also engaging in webinars, retreats, experiential learning, coaching support and peer networking.

For 2019 there are teams from California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Dakota and two separate team efforts in Florida and Texas. USF is one of only two universities represented in the cohorts, according to Penniecook.

Cohort project topics range from antibiotic resistance to breastfeeding to improving knowledge of HIV.

Members of Penniecook’s cohort, who are all also based in Tampa, Fla., include: Dr. Leslene Gordon, COPH alumna and community health director for the Florida Department of Health and team leader; Dr. Chrisoula Kiriazis, internal medicine provider at Baycare; Debra Harris, senior director for Gateway Services, Crisis Center of Tampa Bay; and Langdon Grace Liggett, health education program consultant in the Office of Health Equity for the Florida Department of Health Hillsborough County and also a COPH alumna.

“The interesting thing about this is that it has a double aim; one part is the actual project, but the most important part is collective leadership training,” Penniecook said. “When you only develop the leader, then that person alone is trying to find key players and collaborators. But, the NLAPH has found  that if you develop leadership teams, you’ll have a broader base of leadership that has been prepared to conduct public health initiatives across the country.”

Penniecook said that the Hillsborough county team is working in collaboration within the context of the Healthy Hillsborough Coalition to address environmental and social risk-factors for diabetes.

She said the project aims to address social determinants of health via a screening tool that will be used in emergency rooms, to coordinate referrals to medical home and social services, in order to support patients who are at risk of developing diabetes or its complications.

Dr. Tricia Penniecook and the rest of her cohort 8 project members. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Tricia Penniecook)

“We are going to look at preventing and managing diabetes upstream,” she said. “We’re trying to look at ways to capture people at risk for diabetes, or who are already diabetic, based on the need to address social determinants of health. Not just lifestyle decisions, but also factors in their community that could help them to better manage or prevent their disease.”

A screening tool, Penniecook said, will gather information on factors that ultimately impact health, such as unpaid bills or lack of food in the home.

If those needs are not being met, the patient will be connected to services to address those issues so that their health outcomes can improve.  

“This is going to be an excellent opportunity for our students to function as a combination of care coordinator/health coordinator to do the surveys with patients coming into these emergency departments and connecting them with the services that they need,” Penniecook said.

Penniecook said that the Hillsborough county team is in the process of working out agreements with the hospitals where their project will be piloted.  This will be a wonderful opportunity to see how public health can be integrated in clinical practice to address health equity in preventing and managing chronic disease. 

“It’s really a public health leadership initiative,” she said.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health