Partnership to focus on better health outcomes for some of Maricopa County’s most vulnerable

$1 million collaboration between ASU, local policy leaders aims to coordinate and improve population health services


August 17, 2018

A multidisciplinary group of Arizona State University faculty will spend the next two years researching and implementing new ways to improve services and reduce costs for some of Maricopa County’s most vulnerable populations as part of a $1 million translational research grant.

Led by College of Health Solutions researcher William Riley, professor of health care delivery, the group will work with Arizona’s leading health, social and criminal justice organizations to design more effective and cost-efficient ways to deliver health care to Medicaid patients who have a history of mental-health or substance-abuse issues and use multiple organizations’ services. William Riley Led by College of Health Solutions researcher William Riley, the group of ASU faculty will work with Arizona’s leading health, social and criminal justice organizations to design more effective and cost-efficient ways to deliver health care to Medicaid patients who have a history of mental-health or substance-abuse issues and use multiple organizations’ services. Download Full Image

For the first six months, the team of researchers and stakeholders from more than 40 organizations will meet regularly to analyze existing data and information to determine ways to coordinate and improve services. The goal is to break down barriers among these organizations that are distinct and separate yet often work with the same populations, a situation that can leads to duplication of services and high costs.

“Mental-health providers, social-service agencies, first responders, law enforcement, the jail, court system and probation department each provide extraordinary service for people with severe mental illness, yet the entire system is fragmented, with inefficient care coordination characterized by numerous gaps, overlap and rework,” Riley said.

Once the team decides which policies to align and coordinate, the remaining year and a half of the grant will be spent implementing and analyzing the new systems to determine their effectiveness in improving health outcomes and reducing costs. The group will monitor results and assess data such as hospitalization rates and encounters with law enforcement.

Joining Riley on this project are George Runger, professor of biomedical informatics; Michael Shafer, director of the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy; Katie Pine and Mac McCullough, assistant professors of health care delivery in the College of Health Solutions; Margaret Hinrichs, postdoctoral research associate in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Kailey Love, project manager; Gevork Harootunian, statistical director; Fernando Hernandez, program manager from the ASU Decision Theater; and many of Maricopa County’s principal public health, social and legal organizations.

The project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Kelly Krause

Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions

Recent PhD graduate awarded one of Canada’s top prizes for research


August 17, 2018

Karina Benessaiah, a recent PhD in geography graduate from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has been named a 2018 Banting Fellow.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program is Canada’s most prestigious and highest valued award for postdoctoral researchers. The award provides significant funding for both national and international researchers who show potential to positively contribute to Canada's economic, social and research-based growth. Karina Benessaiah in the field.

Benessaiah, who was awarded her PhD from ASU in the spring of 2018, travelled to Greece to conduct her research for her dissertation that focused on understanding how people adapt to rapid, multifaceted social-ecological changes, and to assess societal and environmental transformations.  

“Environmental changes, economic recessions and globalized trade are all drivers of change that shape livelihoods and environments around the world, often in unexpected ways,” Benessaiah said. “Understanding the processes involved in those social-ecological transformations highlights emergent vulnerabilities and potential opportunities towards sustainable and equitable pathways.”

With the upheavals experienced within Greece’s economy, Benessaiah's research focused on how that crisis brought people “back to the land,” supporting her thought of looking at sustainability efforts from the vantage of small-scale projects that work and that may then be used to a broader benefit.

Recalling her work in Greece, Benessaiah said, “People went back to the land not necessarily out of despair but because the crisis upended previous markers of social and economic success and thus allowed people to explore different pathways, which if supported, could lead to a broader shift towards sustainability.”

Karina Benessaiah (right) can be seen working the land as part of her research of small-scale sustainability efforts.

According to Billie L. Turner, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who served as chair of Benessaiah’s doctoral committee, her research has the capacity to be groundbreaking.

“Karina’s dissertation carves out a research problem that has heretofore not been addressed by the sustainability science and ecosystem service research communities in which she engages,” Turner said. “The Banting Fellowship, including her extremely high ranking in the competition, registers the innovativeness and quality of her research and the promise that she holds for scholarship.”

For the duration of the fellowship, Benessaiah will be hosted by McGill University in Montreal, which is where she completed both her bachelor's and master’s degrees. Her research during the fellowship will take place both in Montreal and Greece, as she continues investigating how social-ecological transformations are scaling up.

In total, over 590 applications were reviewed for the highly coveted award and only 70 were ultimately funded. Benessaiah was one of 23 to be funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

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