Newly Funded New York City Center Aims to Reduce Health Disparities in Chronic Disease


A multi-institutional group in New York City has united to address health disparities in multiple chronic diseases through a new collaborative center.

The vision of the Center to Improve Chronic Disease Outcomes through Multi-level and Multi-generational Approaches Unifying Novel Interventions and Training for Health Equity (COMMUNITY Center) is rooted in public health tenets, recognizing that medical advances alone can only partially reduce the outpaced burden of disease on racial and ethnic minorities. Reducing health disparities in chronic diseases requires multi-faceted approaches that intervene on structural, community, family and individual level determinants of health and well-being.

“In establishing this new collaborative center, we aim to reduce multiple chronic diseases in the communities that we serve across the New York City region, particularly in the Black and LatinX communities that face a much higher burden of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease,” said Dr. Mary Beth Terry, the contact principal investigator for the center and a professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health (Mailman).

“Our goal is to develop, test and implement solutions that can be scalable,” said Dr. Terry, who directs the Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) Office and co-leads the Cancer Population Science research program at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and directs the Chronic Disease Unit in the Department of Epidemiology at Mailman. 

The COMMUNITY Center draws on strong collaborations between researchers, community organizations, clinicians and health care systems, public health agencies, and other stakeholders and joins Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY) and the Physician Affiliate Group of New York (PAGNY). 

“Hunter College is delighted to be in partnership with ColumbiaWeill Cornell Medicine and PAGNY. Aligned with our mission, this grant creates the structure and pathway to address the root causes of health disparities in communities and work collaboratively to begin to solve them,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cohn, RN, PhD, associate provost for research at Hunter College-CUNY.

The new COMMUNITY Center is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Minority Health Disparities (NIMHD) to tackle the complex problem of persisting inequities in health care for patients suffering from chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, and risk factors that are common to both. The NIMHD’s mission is to support research and initiatives that will reduce the profound disparity in health status of racial and ethnic minority, rural, low-income, and other underserved populations.

“This is one of the few times NIH has broken down traditional research silos and funded studies to address multiple chronic conditions. Millions of Americans, especially BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color], are not privileged enough to live with just one chronic health condition,” said co-principal investigator Dr. Erica Phillips, associate director of community outreach and engagement at the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and the Jack Fishman Associate Professor of Cancer Prevention at Weill Cornell Medicine, and an associate attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Bringing together investigators with expertise in behavioral and social sciences, epidemiology, biostatistics, data science, implementation science, health services, economics, environmental science, public policy, clinical translational sciences, and community engagement, the COMMUNITY Center will develop research projects that draw from multiple disciplines.

A version of this story can be found on the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center site.