Faculty Research

Faculty research within the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences (BCHS) incorporates the latest advances in the social and behavioral sciences. With support from organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and U.S. Agency for International Development, our faculty members are improving the public health knowledge base in such areas as...

  • assessing the needs of communities and populations for the purpose of guiding policy and program development;
  • initiating a range of culturally appropriate, community-based chronic disease prevention and management initiatives;
  • assessing health and welfare needs of the elderly; and
  • assisting local provider organizations in streamlining their services.

The following are examples of standout funded BCHS faculty research in these areas involving specific communities and populations.

The Elderly/Aging

Recent efforts in the area of aging have included behavioral interventions to prevent morbidity, enhance patient choice, promote prevention, and improve long-term care. BCHS Chair Steven Albert has directed several research studies on the elderly, including one on Pprimary prevention of falls, thanks to a $1.6 million grant from the CDC. “Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among older adults, and yet we know little about how prevention programs work in the real world,” he said. This major public health comparative effectiveness study is looking at ways to reduce this number-one cause of injury among older adults., It examines two programs offered by Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging, Healthy Steps for Older Adults and Healthy Steps in Motion. The interventions identify people at risk for falling and make referrals for physician care and home safety assessments as well as sensitize people to behavioral changes that help prevent falls.

Health Equity

Health Equity research led by Assistant Professor Patricia Documét has focused on underserved communities, especially Latino health, including examining the salience of social support and social relationships, health care access, promoting cancer screening for Latinas, and assisting Latino men in building community connections and obtaining health services. Her ongoing study, A Collectivist Approach to Cervical Cancer Screening Among Latinos, is funded by the NIH and seeks to provide training in skills needed to conduct behavioral trials on cancer screening among underserved populations. Goals of the study include acquiring the necessary skills to design and analyze behavioral intervention trials; developing training in culturally relevant social, ecological, and behavioral theories to guide intervention designs; and honing skills in integrating qualitative and quantitative data analysis.

De la Mano con la Salud (Lend a Hand to Health) is a community-based, participatory research project funded by the National Institute for Nursing Research to assess the impact of a network of promotores (trained Latino community health educators) on the health of Latino immigrant men. Based on the Latino Engagement Group for Salud (LEGS) coalition, this project is a collaboration among multiple organizations—such as the Squirrel Hill Health Center and Consumer Health Coalition—service providers, and individuals. The promotores also work closely with organizations that provide social and medical services to Latino men, such as medical providers in emergency rooms and private practices, the Center for Victims, the local police, and recreation centers.

Hermanas en la Salud (Sisters in Health) A Collectivist Approach to Cervical Cancer Screening Among Latinas, funded by the National Cancer Institute is a project to assess whether the social relationships inherent to a group visits for Pap tests improve Latinas’ willingness to take the exam. Dr. Documet is collaborating with Adagio Health clinics in Pittsburgh, Erie, and Washington as well as the Midwife Center for Birth and Women’s Health and the Squirrel Hill Health Center in Pittsburgh, which are allowing the groups to schedule two to three consecutive individual appointments at a time.

Violence Prevention

BCHS faculty members have conducted research on violence in intimate relationships—both heterosexual and homosexual—and among youth, which has led to a focus on behavioral risk factors. In 1998, Associate Professor Jessica Griffin Burke began collaborating on Project WAVE (Women, AIDS, and the Violence Epidemic), one of the first studies to relate HIV, intimate partner violence, and substance use among women. “Many women, both HIV positive and negative, are abused by their partners, and we need to understand more about those relationships and to develop effective prevention and intervention programs,” she said. Since Project WAVE, Burke and her colleagues have developed and pilot-tested a stage-based intervention for intimate partner violence among HIV-positive women.

Health Promotion

The Consumer Health Coalition, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to advancing health and enhancing access to quality, affordable health care, partnered with BCHS on the Healthy Hospital Initiative (HHI). This initiative focused on exploring the experiences of elderly individuals and caregivers of elderly as they transition from a hospital stay to their home or a nursing home setting.. Associate Professor Jeanette M. Trauth and members of the HHI workgroup utilized a patient-centered model of hospital discharge that emphasized communication, comprehension, and coordination of care to guide their qualitative study. Focus groups were held with seniors and caregivers and several themes were identified that provide opportunities for intervention: medication management, scheduling follow-up appointments, and coordinating the exchange of information among various health care providers.

Mon Yough Community Services (MYCS), a community mental health agency provides a range of services to area residents with serious mental illnesses (SMI), substance abuse disorders, and developmental disabilities. MYCS is concerned about promoting the health of those with SMI who on average die 25 years earlier than those without SMI. Addressingthe physical health issues of those with SMI have often been a lesser priority than addressing their mental health. MYCS has partnered with Associate Professor , Jeanette Trauth. On the receipt of a Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) incubator grant to foster the development of a community-based, participatory research project focused on improving the physical health of those suffering from SMI. Toward this end, a series of discussions are being held with MYCS staff, consumers, and families who might shed light on the opportunities for and barriers to improving the health of individuals with SMI. Following the completion of the discussion groups, a grant proposal will be submitted focusing on translating evidence-based health promotion programs to a mental health population.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) Health

The Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Health Research, established in 2012, was the first to offer master’s and doctoral-level public health training geared toward LGBT health and the first to offer a certificate in LGBT health research. Professor Ron Stall directs the center, whose primary areas of research are in resiliencies and syndemic production, health across the life course from youth to old age, substance abuse research and health promotion among sexual minorities who are also racial minorities. Stall’s research has focused primarily on HIV prevention, related health disparities, and substance use among gay men. Stall recently received a grant from the NIH to study HIV risk among African American men who have sex with men (MSM), and is awaiting decisions on grant applications regarding resiliencies among MSM, and the effects of civil rights protections for LGBT populations of HIV prevalence and incidence among MSM in the United States.

Read about our faculty and their individual areas of research.

Recent BCHS Publications

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Nowalk authors chapter in upcoming public health guide to opioid epidemic 

Nowalk authors chapter in upcoming public health guide to opioid epidemic

Alex Nowalk (BCHS '16), program director at Pitt's Program Evaluation and Research Unit, recently co-authored a chapter in an upcoming book, A Public Health Guide to Ending the Opioid Epidemic. Nowalk's chapter presents screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment as a public health and... (08/25/2019)
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Latent classes of polysubstance use among adolescents in the United States: Intersections of sexual identity with sex, age, and race/ethnicity 

Latent classes of polysubstance use among adolescents in the United States: Intersections of sexual identity with sex, age, and race/ethnicity

LGBT HEALTH - Coulter RWS, Ware D, Fish JN, and Plankey MW found that compared with their heterosexual peers, gay/lesbian and bisexual adolescents-especially females-are at heightened risk of engaging in multiple types of polysubstance use. Designing, implementing, and evaluating interventions will... (05/17/2019)

OjO Latino: A Photovoice Project in Recognition of the Latino Presence in Pittsburgh, PA 

OjO Latino: A Photovoice Project in Recognition of the Latino Presence in Pittsburgh, PA

CONTEMPORANEITY - Pitt students Héctor Camilo Ruiz Sánchez (BCHS/Anthropology '20), Paulina Pardo Gaviria (history of art & architecture) Rosa De Ferrari (BCHS/GSPIA '18), and faculty advisors Kirk Savage & Patricia Documet (BCHS) published on their recent Photovoice work connecting Latinos from ... (04/12/2019)
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A Multisite Case Study of Caregive Advise, Record, Enable Act Implementation 

A Multisite Case Study of Caregive Advise, Record, Enable Act Implementation

THE GERONTOLOGIST - Leighton C, Fields B, Rodakowski JL, Feiler C, Hawk M, Bellon JE, James AE's results showed that organizational context and electronic health record capability were instrumental to the CARE Act implementation and integration into workflow. This study can help to inform others as... (03/17/2019)
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Examining the Impact of a Psychosocial Syndemic on Past Six-Month HIV Screening Behavior of Black Men who have Sex with Men in the United States 

Examining the Impact of a Psychosocial Syndemic on Past Six-Month HIV Screening Behavior of Black Men who have Sex with Men in the United States

AIDS AND BEHAVIOR - Chandler C, Bukowski LA, Egan JE, Hawk M, Matthews D, Markovic N, Stall R revealed that tere were synergies among depression, problematic binge drinking, and poly-drug usebut these pschosocial factors cannot entirely explain testing patterns and excess disease burden among BMSM.... (03/05/2019)
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Multifactorial discrimination, discrimination salience, and prevalent experiences of internalized homophobia in middle-aged and older MSM 

Multifactorial discrimination, discrimination salience, and prevalent experiences of internalized homophobia in middle-aged and older MSM

AGING AND MENTAL HEALTH - Meanley SP, Stall RD, Hawk ME, Surkan PJ, Shoptaw SJ, Matthews DD, Teplin LA, Egan JE, Plankey MW's study underscores internalized homophobia as a persisting concern among MSM in midlife and older adulthood. Their findings suggest that saliences, as a characteristic of dis... (03/05/2019)
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I Don't Want the Tray to Tip: Experiences of Peer Evaluators in a Multi-Site HIV Retention Care Study 

I Don't Want the Tray to Tip: Experiences of Peer Evaluators in a Multi-Site HIV Retention Care Study

AIDS EDUCATION AND PREVENTION - Dr. Mary Hawk and co-authors found that peers are well-positioned to collect client-level data, best practices, standards, and trainings for peer-based evaluation should be developed.  (03/05/2019)
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Aging in Brazil 

Aging in Brazil

THE GERONTOLOGIST - Tramujas Vasconcellos Neumann and Albert give a brief overview of aging in Brazil by presenting some of the demographics and characteristics of the older adult population, the principles and innovative processes used in developing the main legislation for the rights of older peo... (12/04/2018)