Edith Williams Named Founding Director of the New Office of Health Equity Research
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
After a comprehensive search, a founding director has been named for the new Office of Health Equity Research, which is housed in the University of Rochester Clinical and Translational Science Institute and is a crucial part of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s . Edith M. Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of Public Health Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, will take up the role on September 1, and will also be appointed associate professor in the Departments of Public Health Sciences and Medicine (Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology), pending URMC Board approval.
“The Office of Health Equity Research will provide foundational science to inform URMC’s commitment to health equality,” said medical center CEO Mark Taubman, M.D. “Edith Williams brings a rich combination of research expertise, institutional experience and local knowledge that will enable her to structure this new office for success, and ultimately to elevate the role of science in achieving health equity, locally and nationally.”
“Dr. Williams has the perfect constellation of research, leadership and mentorship experiences to lead this important effort at URMC,” said UR CTSI Co-Director Nancy M. Bennett, M.D., who chaired the search committee. “She has a long history of helping other researchers and community partners advance their own health equity efforts that I’m excited to see her continue here.”
A Rochester native, Williams began her journey with health equity research while earning a doctorate in Epidemiology and Community Health at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Having grown up in the comforts of suburban Henrietta, she was shocked by the inequities she noticed in Buffalo. Her master’s thesis highlighted the lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in communities with mostly Black residents and led to a grant to set up a community garden and to distribute food from the garden to local residents and food pantries.
For her doctoral research, Williams shifted her focus to lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that disproportionately impacts Black women. Her community-based participatory research in this area included lengthy interviews with patients that moved her to devote her research career to understanding this disease in hopes of improving patients’ lives.
Putting others first is second nature to Williams. As a faculty member at the Medical University of South Carolina, she drove all over South Carolina to collect specimens from lupus patients to reduce the burden of participating in her study. She is also accustomed to working with many partners and stakeholders across sectors and disciplines. Working with partners at historically Black colleges and universities, she developed a pipeline program to mentor HBCU students and to provide them a path into MUSC’s Public Health program.
“As URMC strives to become a leader in health equity research, Dr. Williams’ deep expertise in this area and demonstrated ability to bring researchers and community members together and to advance their goals is exactly what we need,” said Senior Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion Adrienne Morgan, Ph.D., who co-chaired the search committee.
A key piece of the fifth pillar of the URMC Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan, the goal of the Office of Health Equity Research is to increase capacity to conduct health equity research across the medical center. The office, with Williams at the helm, will bring people together across research and clinical enterprises and the broader community to develop a learning health system – integrating community-engaged research to inform and improve equitable care for all.
“As a Rochester native, I am overjoyed to be returning home to lead an effort focused on synergizing innovative, transdisciplinary, and impactful research to improve the health of the most vulnerable residents of Rochester and beyond,” Williams said. “It’s time to move beyond simply documenting health disparities toward ensuring health equity through intervention, implementation, dissemination, and translational science.”
As director of the Office of Health Equity Research, Williams will sit on the Equity and Anti-Racism Action Plan’s Health Equity Steering Committee and will work closely with the all of the plan’s task forces. She will also serve as a central resource for all URMC departments, maintaining strong connections to help them develop their own health equity research projects and to encourage that all research be viewed through a health equity lens.
Williams’ first priority when she joins URMC in September is to conduct a listening tour across URMC and the local community to inventory ongoing health equity research and to understand researchers’ and community members’ needs. She will then develop a strategic plan for the first five years of the office’s work.
Poised for Pride: Strong Earns Healthcare Equality Designation
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Strong Memorial Hospital has again been named one of the nation's leaders in LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality initiatives by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC). The Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) surveys healthcare facilities on policies and practices dedicated to the equitable treatment and inclusion of LGBTQ+ patients, visitors and employees.
Strong earned the LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader designation using survey criteria that include non-discrimination and staff training, patient services and support, employee benefits and policies, and patient and community engagement. Under HRC’s system, a facility needs to score 100 points to be designated an "LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader." Facilities receive points for meeting specific requirements and by having a certain number of best practices and policies in place.
In the HRC survey, Strong was recognized—as in past years—for meeting criteria such as having a patient non-discrimination policy that includes the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” providing equal visitation rights to LGBTQ+ patients and their loved ones, having an employment non-discrimination policy that is fully LGBTQ+ inclusive, and providing approved training in LGBTQ+ patient-centered care.
Everyone under the University of Rochester umbrella shares the responsibility of bolstering acts of inclusion and equity to protect the LGBTQ+ community and align with organizational values.
Jackie Beckerman, chief patient experience officer and senior director of the ICARE Commitment, recognizes just how critical it is to break down healthcare barriers for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Our goal, first and foremost, is to ensure that all patients receive high quality, compassionate, and equitable care—in an environment that feels respectful and safe for everyone,” she said. “Our LGBTQ+ patients face significant challenges in healthcare, and we need to provide a space where these individuals always feel safe and comfortable talking with their care team about all aspects of their lives. There is no place for discrimination or bias in this organization.”
Mark Taubman, M.D., URMC CEO and SMD dean, said being a model institution for equity is a crucial goal for the Medical Center. "As use of pronouns has taken hold, just by saying them you are demonstrating that you are sensitive to the issues of gender identity,” he said.
Taubman recognizes that earning an award or recognition—a designation in this case —doesn't mean the job is done.
"There's always more to do,” said Taubman. “We acknowledge the award as it tells us where the bar is. Our goal is not to hit the bar but be way above it. There are so many ways to make equity and inclusiveness attainable.”
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are often subject to discrimination in all spaces, including healthcare facilities.
“This often leads to avoiding care and anticipating their voices not being respected in an incredibly vulnerable environment,” said Tari Hanneman, director of Health & Aging at The Human Rights Campaign. “The Healthcare Equality Index, at its core, strives to ensure LGBTQ+ people are protected and affirmed by their healthcare providers and feel safe seeking services."
This designation, awarded at the end of March, ties in with Pride Month, celebrated throughout the nation during June. The Medical Center has made progress in the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals and is committed to continuing to work to protect those who have been marginalized.
"There are so many people who need love and support and help right now," said Timothy Wood, a UR Medicine patient and member of the transgender community, who said the University works to understand his needs. "Trusting in your healthcare system is key. I'm so grateful for the support I receive from my primary care doctor."
More than two decades ago, Wood began living secretly as a man, unable to reveal his true self to many of his friends and family members. He described years of feeling alienated and lonely.
It's patients like Wood, along with a diverse staff and faculty, that the Medical Center aims to protect. Being inclusive means that everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ has a safe place.
"Our society is very binary, but we don't have to all fit in neatly, we're not under obligation to be a certain way," said Wood. "It's about respecting people's differences and lifestyles without making a big deal of it or overreacting."