Health Behavior Student News – Summer-Fall 2019

July, 27, 2019

A North Carolina explorer who is passionate about health equity

Photo: Jennifer Richmond

Jennifer Richmond

Jennifer Richmond, a doctoral candidate in health behavior, was recently awarded dissertation funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Research Scholars Program. The dissertation award provides grants up to $10,000 to support doctoral students who bring unique and diverse perspectives to policy-relevant research on community needs and health equity.

The focus of the award is a perfect match for Richmond, who grew up in Burlington, North Carolina. Richmond has been keenly aware of health disparities and racial disparities since an early age. Richmond grew up seeing people in her community die too soon in part because they could not access high-quality medical care. These experiences sparked her commitment to understanding how she could support individuals and communities in living longer, healthier lives.

Richmond was drawn to public health because of the potential to work on prevention of health problems through improving policy and heath systems. She focuses on the structural factors that create racial and health disparities.

Richmond is earning her third degree in public health from Carolina. As an undergraduate, she studied health policy and management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree. After several years working in the health field, she returned to Chapel Hill in 2014 to enter the Master’s-to-Doctoral degree program in health behavior. Her adviser is Kurt Ribisl, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Health Behavior.

Richmond’s dissertation takes aim at racial disparities in use of health services like treatment of lung cancer. Black individuals with lung cancer are less likely to receive treatment than white individuals, but little is known about ways to increase equitable receipt of lung cancer treatment. Richmond’s research will focus on questions such as these: If nurses who help patients navigate the path of cancer treatment complete training sessions on racial equity, will this increase lung cancer treatment uptake? How does a patient’s mistrust of providers or the health care system in general affect whether that individual receives treatment? How can we improve and expand the way we measure patient trust in providers and the health care system?

If you are looking for Richmond on weekends, check the back roads of North Carolina. Richmond loves discovering hidden attractions in cities and the countryside across the state. Where some may see a dilapidated store with trees growing through the shattered windows, Richmond can see the building in better days, perhaps as the center of a thriving community.

May 13, 2019

Yesenia Merino

Yesenia Merino

Yesenia Merino, PhD, a 2019 graduate of the health behavior doctoral program, has been inducted into the Frank Porter Graham Honor Society. The Society recognizes exceptional students, faculty and staff who have contributed to the legacy of graduate education at Carolina.

Merino co-founded the Carolina Grad Student F1rst Program, an initiative housed within the UNC Graduate School that provides opportunities and resources to first-generation students to support their academic success and build community.

Geni Eng, DrPH, professor of health behavior, who nominated Merino, says of her, “Yesenia entered our doctoral program with a commitment to examine and address the health effects from structural issues of race and class on communities of color. She armed herself with an impressive range of skills, not only in engaged scholarship but by applying them through meaningful service, such as developing two new public health equity courses for the School and establishing a University-wide support program for first-generation graduate students.”

“I had no idea I’d been nominated, so I was surprised and excited to receive word of my acceptance,” Merino said. “I do the work I do with students and communities as my primary focus, but it is both validating and humbling to feel like my work also is appreciated by leadership in the School.”

May 9, 2019

Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno (on left) presents her work. on eviction and heatlh.

Disrupted: Eviction & Health in Durham,” a website and exhibit, gives a glimpse of how eviction often leads to poor health outcomes. The project, which sheds light on this issue in Durham, N.C, is the work of Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno, a dual master’s degree candidate in public health and city and regional planning at UNC.

In Durham, where more than 9,000 evictions were filed between July 2017 and July 2018, many of these evictions are “no-fault evictions,” meaning they were filed against tenants with no clearly stated reason for the eviction.

While it is generally assumed that eviction affects health, little documentation of the specific health impact exists. To learn more, Jimenez-Magdaleno interviewed tenants receiving housing assistance in the form of Section 8 vouchers who had received no-fault eviction notices.  In the resulting website and exhibit, she  shares stories and photos of the experiences of two women who had received no-fault eviction notices: One woman experienced aggravated symptoms of Lupus and scleroderma, and the other woman experienced high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression. Read their stories on the Disrupted website.

“Disrupted was inspired by a health behavior project we did in Planning Health Promotion (HBEH 772) in Spring 2018,” Jimenez-Magdaleno said. “That project focused on a three-pronged approach to reducing evictions in Durham County. I wanted to continue that project in some form without focusing on the ways we traditionally look at eviction in that the tenant is ultimately at fault for not paying rent.”

Jimenez-Magdaleno took a photojournalism investigate approach and she says the culmination of findings reveals a disturbingly overt manifestation of systematic racism that has been occurring for years in Durham County and the rest of the state.

“We’re seeing very loose criteria for evicting families from their home with little to no protection for the tenants (who are overwhelmingly Black women throughout the South),” she said. “Despite the observation that these occurrences are emblematic of a systemic issues in our socioeconomic institutions, the tenants who shared their story with me consistently internalized the eviction as a shame they had to withhold from their loved ones—a shame that incited anxieties, depression and deterioration of their physical health. This was the case even if the tenants did everything right to respect the property they rented and lived in for years.”

In a follow-up story, The News & Observer covered Jimenez-Magdaleno’s work and discussed both pending affordable housing efforts in Durham and why 95 percent of Durham families facing a possible eviction currently do so without legal representation.

Jimenez-Magdaleno’s work was funded by the  2019 Excellence in Diversity Fellowship and the Planner’s Forum Master’s Project Fund.