Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards $260K grant to Yanica Faustin to support health equity research

The Health Equity Scholars for Action program supports academic researchers from historically underrepresented backgrounds as they expand research designed to dismantle systemic and structural barriers to health and well-being.

Assistant Professor of Public Health Studies Yanica Faustin will be expanding her exploration of why Black mothers experience adverse health outcomes and how to address those racial disparities in maternal health on a communitywide scale thanks to robust support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Yanica Faustin, assistant professor of public health studies

Faustin was selected to receive a two-year, $260,000 grant from the foundation’s Health Equity Scholars for Action, an initiative to support academic researchers from historically underrepresented backgrounds as they pursue scholarship that helps address health equity issues by dismantling systemic and structural barriers to health and well-being. Faustin was one of only 15 researchers nationwide to receive an award.

Faustin said. Receiving the foundation’s support for work that she is passionate about means a great deal. “This topic is so near and dear to my heart, and it’s part of my life’s work to improve maternal health,” Faustin said. “To win a grant for work that is so important to me and to win a grant of this size is really overwhelming to me.”

Faustin will be building upon a strong foundation of research providing evidence that Black women experience a much greater risk of developing severe illnesses or disease (morbidities) during pregnancy or of losing their lives than white women. Black women are three times more likely to experience maternal mortality than white women and twice as likely to experience life-threatening complications during delivery, Faustin explained in her grant application.

However, missing from that well-established research is an exploration of whether these health inequities might vary depending upon whether a Black woman is born in the United States or immigrated here from another country. Most of that research has treated the Black population as a monolith and has not examined how women from different backgrounds might be impacted differently based upon a variety of factors on the systemic and community levels.

“We have had many research reports come through, and yet the gap between Black mothers and white mothers persists,” Faustin said. “The hope is that we can influence policy and practice with this research.”

With the foundation’s support, Faustin will conduct interviews of up to 40 Black women, across the diaspora, who live in New York City about their experiences before, during and after giving birth as well as other barriers to high-quality health care they may be experiencing. Half of those surveyed will have been born in this country and half will have immigrated here from their native country. The goal is to identify disparities between the two groups in the rates of maternal morbidities, increase understanding of their experiences and navigation of the medical system, and then leverage those insights to determine how those disparities may be addressed on multiple levels.

Faustin will be working closely with Life of Hope, a community-based health care organization that is deeply engaged with the immigrant community in central Brooklyn and with Dr. Christina Pardo, an obstetrician-gynecologist who is deputy director of Life of Hope. Faustin will recruit a community advisory board to provide input into the recruitment of participants, collection of data and data analysis and will be assisted by a community health worker.

For Faustin’s research, New York offers an ideal location given the size and diversity of its Black population, with Black immigrants making up more than a quarter of the Black population in the city. The city has also seen an influx in recent years of Black immigrants, particularly from Haiti, she said. “We treat the Black population as one, when in reality, the Black population living in the U.S. includes a growing number of Black immigrants,” Faustin said.

The hope is that the insights from this intensive research that account for the diversity within the Black population will provide the ability to make a more targeted impact on maternal health, she said. “If we can identify the differences they are experiencing within these systems, then we can create tailored community-level interventions,” Faustin said.

Faustin will be focused on beginning to collaborate with Life of Hope and building out the community advisory board this spring with the goal of conducting interviews with study participants this summer, after which the work will shift to analysis. Faustin has been very involved with undergraduate research since joining the faculty at Elon, and she anticipates opportunities for Elon students to be engaged in her research, perhaps across more than one year, in the future.

Faustin’s award comes during a year that Elon has seen increased activity in grant applications from faculty and staff with the support of the Office of Sponsored Programs and from Amy Overman, assistant provost for scholarship and creative activity and professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program. So far this fiscal year, which ends May 30, the university has already exceeded the total number of grant applications and has the highest amount of funds requested in the entire history of Elon.

“This prestigious award to support Dr. Faustin’s research provides external recognition of how she embraces the teacher-scholar identity and supports the Boldly Elon strategic plan by giving our students the opportunity to be involved in groundbreaking and meaningful mentored learning experiences in research that has important real-world implications,” Overman said.