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Rosalind Franklin University Announces Founding Director of Michael Reese Foundation Center for Health Equity Research

Amanda M. Simanek, PhD, MPH, has been named founding director of the Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation Center for Health Equity Research at Rosalind Franklin University.

RFU announced in March that its plan to establish a health-equity research center was moving forward with a generous grant from the Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation. The funding will help build collaborative center cores, which will foster research collaborations that aim to ameliorate health inequities and prevent adverse health outcomes across the lifespan.

Dr. Simanek said the center’s cores will focus on community engagement and investigator development, as well as data management and bioinformatics. She will work closely with RFU faculty and students across academic programs as well as community organizations and healthcare providers to shape the mission and goals of the center — the first step, she says, “in ensuring future research projects are responsive to community needs and contribute to more equitable health outcomes among Lake County communities that have been historically marginalized, disadvantaged and underserved.”

“Community-based research is an area where we can really make a difference,” said RFU Executive Vice President for Research Dr. Ronald Kaplan, who has led the initiative. “Dr. Simanek brings the experience, passion and commitment to help lead our students, faculty and community partners in building a more equitable future for our closest neighbors.”

A social epidemiologist, Dr. Simanek joins RFU from an associate professor post in the Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She earned a Master of Public Health degree in International Health Epidemiology and a doctorate in Epidemiologic Science from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Simanek described her research as aiming to identify pathways by which social disadvantage shapes health inequities across generations and the lifecourse. She notes that “health inequities are perpetuated by unjust social structures and systems — and healthcare providers, public health professionals and government officials have a duty to act by disrupting these systems and ensuring the conditions necessary for attaining optimal health are in place for all.” 

The Center for Health Equity Research will take up this call to act by facilitating health equity-focused research projects that “address upstream sociostructural determinants of health and involve interventions aimed at reducing health equities in Lake County, Illinois,” Dr. Simanek said. “Specifically, the center will aim to serve as a resource to researchers, interprofessional trainees, and community partners who wish to engage in health equity-focused research.”

"The Michael Reese Research and Education Foundation congratulates both Dr. Simanek and Rosalind Franklin University," said William Chamberlin, MD, FACP, chairman of the foundation's Board of Directors. "The school has made an outstanding choice for its inaugural director. We look forward to substantial contributions to the health of the nation and to Lake County in particular."

Recent Lake County Health Department data reveal enduring health and racial disparities by ZIP code. RFU’s home community — ZIP code 60064, where 28% of the population is Black and 33% Latino — has the highest number of people in the county living below the federal poverty level at 30.8%, and the highest rate of obesity at 35.7%. Immediately north of the university, in ZIP code 60044, just 4.8% are poor and 14.6% obese. Residents in 60044, who are 92% white, live on average more than 10 years longer than their neighbors to the south.

Posted May 18, 2022
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