Center for Interdisciplinary Population & Health Research (CIPHR) initiates and evaluates interventions to improve health care quality and safety.  CIPHR provides such services as biostatistics, bioinformatics, epidemiology, qualitative research, community-based participatory research, and rural health disparities research. A few current research initiatives are highlighted below.

Bright Bodies is a high-intensity, family-based intervention for childhood obesity where children and their families meet twice per week for 3-6 months and engage in nutrition, behavior modification, and exercise classes. The intervention was found to lead to the biggest reduction in body mass index among U.S.-based childhood obesity interventions evaluated in the 2017 U.S. Preventive Task Force Report. In this study, we use a mixed methods approach to evaluate historical dissemination sites of Bright Bodies, optimize the Bright Bodies package, and disseminate it at three heterogenous sites (Maine, Alabama, and California) serving populations with racial and ethnic, rural-urban, and geographic diversity. The site in Maine is located in the Oxford Hills community at Stephen’s Memorial Hospital. Patients can be referred by their primary care doctor, and the program will launch October 2022.

The Maine Lung Cancer Coalition (MLCC) was established with grant funding in 2016. The Coalition has had two primary goals:

  1. Engage and educate the general public, patients, health care providers, health care payers, and policymakers about evidence-based lung cancer prevention and screening practices; and
  2. Develop, implement, and evaluate innovative programs to increase access to evidence-based lung cancer prevention, screening, and treatment services to the entire Maine population, including residents of rural underserved areas.

The MLCC continues to serve as the backbone of a collective impact approach to lung cancer control efforts in Maine while also conducting innovative behavioral research. Currently, our research focuses on examining the impact of psychosocial processes on engagement in early detection and risk reduction services. Our questions range from being theory-driven (how does stigma associated with tobacco and lung cancer affect the delivery and receipt of lung cancer care) to applied (optimizing shared decision making).

Since its establishment, the MLCC has received generous grant funding from organizations such as Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Maine Cancer Foundation, Maine Economic Improvement Fund, and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation.

Does a new program that provides healthy food and education in a supportive group atmosphere inspire people to take charge of their health? That’s the question the CIPHR team is answering by evaluating a pilot Food as Medicine program being implemented by Franklin Community Health Network. This innovative program combines access to a hospital-based food pantry with educational sessions covering food preparation, chronic disease management, and other life skills. Participants move through the year-long program in a cohort with the goal of providing social structure and critical peer support. To gauge success of the program the CIPHR team is looking at biometric data, participant surveys, and staff interviews to determine participant satisfaction, health outcomes, and whether the program is replicable in other communities. For more information on Food as Medicine, visit their website.

The Maine Cancer Genomics Initiative was founded by The Jackson Laboratory to improve access to genomic tumor testing in Maine; provide genomics education to medical professionals; and support clinical decision making on cancer treatment. Embedded in the initiative is research that explores cancer patients’ and healthcare clinicians’ perceptions and understanding of genomic tumor testing. This work asks: “what are patients expectations for genomic tumor testing”? “How do patients and clinicians feel about discussing variants of uncertain significance”? “Are there health differences between rural and urban participants”? This research utilized longitudinal surveys and in-depth qualitative interviews with stakeholders. The MCGI has already become a widely statewide collaboration, and with renewed support from the Harold Alfond Foundation, hopes to serve as a model for community precision oncology in rural settings.

This project integrates three strategies to improve access to palliative care for rural patients: (1) develop primary palliative skills of rural complex care teams, (2) leverage technology to connect palliative care specialists in urban areas to support and coach front-line teams, and (3) use community based participatory research methods to adapt and implement innovative models of palliative care. Using community based participatory methods, I collaborated with the Western Maine community to determine how best to develop primary palliative care skills of front-line complex care teams. I have adapted a manual for our intervention and started to train the complex care team (composed of a nurse, health coach and social worker).  We will be connecting this team with an interprofessional specialty palliative care team to provide case specific guidance and coaching. When indicated, the specialty palliative care team can meet with the patient via tele-technology. We are in the process of piloting this intervention in the Stephens community.