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March 11, 2014 - Ceremony Honors Collaborators in Sentinel Surveillance Project
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Members of the Sentinel Surveillance Project pose for a photo after a ceremony honoring the key contributions of the community members who made the first wave of data collection for the project so successful.

A ceremony honoring community members as key collaborators in the Sentinel Surveillance Project was held on Feb. 10, 2014. The event was the celebration of the conclusion of the first of four waves of data collection for the project.

The Sentinel Surveillance Study was formulated by Dr. Martha Arrieta, director of research for the University of South Alabama’s Center for Healthy Communities. The project is implemented under the Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research P20 grant, which receives funding under the leadership of Dr. Errol Crook, professor and Abraham Mitchell Chair of Internal Medicine at the USA College of Medicine and director of the USA Center for Healthy Communities.

The project aims at longitudinally collecting data on the health status and health care access of community residents who experience health disparities in order to track whether any progress towards a more equitable health status is achieved over the course of the next three years – throughout the initial period of implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act.

“We collect data on health status and access to health care by approaching people who are out and about at specially selected public places – so called ‘Sentinel Sites’ – rather than through a door-to-door survey,” said Dr. Arrieta. To assist in the project’s development, six community leaders were chosen to comprise the Community Advisory Board for the study. The board advises on strategies for community engagement and identification of sentinel sites. According to Dr. Arrieta, “their knowledge of and contacts in the community are the cornerstone of the project.”

In addition to the advisory board, 13 community members involved as research apprentices contributed to the survey’s development, distribution and data collection. The apprentices were responsible for approaching community members and administering the surveys. In the four-month period of data collection they visited 30 community sites and collected approximately 4,000 surveys, which is much larger than the initial expectation of 750 surveys gathered.

“The research apprentices’ recommendations regarding the survey instruments were the key to a final set of questionnaires,” said Kristen VanBuren, project director. “They were easily administered, matched the literacy level of the community, and were relevant to the context of the study.”

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) emphasized collaborative partnerships among community members and researchers, while simultaneously bridging the gap between research of and practice of medicine. “At the heart of CBPR is the recognition that there are unique strengths that community members bring to the research table,” said Dr. Arrieta.

“We have experienced unique advantages within the Sentinel Surveillance Project,” said Andrea Hudson, research apprentice coordinator. “The information on health disparities was collected at the neighborhood level because community members were actively engaged in the design, facilitation and implementation of the project.”

The second wave of data collection is scheduled to begin in August 2014. “We are counting on these community partners to return and help us gather the necessary information to shed light on whether progress is being made in improving the health of people experiencing the most health disparities” said Dr. Arrieta.

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