Nationally recognized for his expertise in health disparities research, Olveen Carrasquillo, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Miller School, cares deeply about the health of racial and ethnic minorities living in Miami-Dade. This past May his commitment to improving the well-being of diverse populations was recognized by the Society of General Internal Medicine with the prestigious Herbert W. Nickens Award.
Carrasquillo’s work has helped to save lives and close the gap in health care that affects many Hispanics and African-Americans in Miami-Dade County. His research is actively funded by various centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). With funding from the National Heart Lung & Blood Institute, one project focuses on helping 300 Latino diabetics whose disease is poorly controlled. The Miami Healthy Heart Initiative pairs community health workers (known as “Promotoras de Salud” in Spanish) with diabetic patients from Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center. The intervention is a community-based delivery approach addressing not only medical but also social determinants to improve the health of underserved populations. Although the ‘promotoras’ are focused on diabetes management, the health workers also try to offer patients a more holistic approach to staying healthy, including assistance with social services and strengthening linkages with existing community resources.
“For example, nutrition is discussed but they also empower patients on how to navigate the health system to ensure they get the care they need,” said Carrasquillo. “My focus is on NIH research that has immediate impact on the health of our community. The work we do provides timely and meaningful solutions to the most pressing problems currently facing Miami’s diverse communities.”
In the U.S. African-American and Hispanic women are more likely to contract cervical cancer and twice as likely to die from it, compared to non-Hispanic whites. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, Carrasquillo leads a second research project to reduce cervical cancer among minority women. Because these women are less likely to have a PAP smear, research from the five-year project will help determine which screening modalities are more likely to increase screening in this at-risk group.
The five-year research project will focus on 600 women living in Little Haiti, Hialeah, and West Perrine. Community health workers will either navigate women for cervical cancer screening through a regular Pap smear or teach them how to self-sample at home for the presence of human papillomavirus, which is often associated with cervical cancer. The research project also relies on partnerships between UM researchers and federally qualified health centers to share strategies that result in patients being regularly screened for cervical cancer. In addition, funds from various federal agencies are also helping Carrasquillo train junior investigators, many of whom are members of the communities they are serving, to conduct this type of sensitive research.