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Community and Trauma Counseling program director plays integral role in $6M PCORI project

Over the next five years, Dr. Kirby L. Wycoff—Director of the Community and Trauma Counseling program in the Department of Counseling and Behavioral Health within the College of Health Professions—will play an integral role in a $5.99 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) designed to investigate approaches for reducing heart-disease risk factors in Black birthing people.

The project will be led by researchers at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine and community-based providers from the Maternal Wellness Village, a Jenkintown-based “village of birth workers.”

Together with Dr. Wycoff, they will study the impact that having access to community support services led by Black women, has on improving health outcomes. The overarching goal of the project is to eliminate disparities in heart disease among Black women and birthing people during and after pregnancy.

According to Drs. Wycoff and Sharon Herring, who is the director of Temple’s Maternal Health Equity program, the cross-institution partnership is all about infusing the system with trauma-infused principles. Jefferson is an important grant partner in an effort buoyed by the thought that authentic systems-level change to improve maternal health equity is most effective when it centers partnerships with communities, honors community knowledge and equalizes power between academics and community members.

Dr. Wycoff’s expertise is in community-based participatory (CBPR) methods and her unique combination of skills in both public health and mental health was instrumental in helping the team build the study and navigate the partnership relationship.

“Kirby will lead all of the qualitative aspects of the study and her existing relationship with the Maternal Wellness Village was a catalyst for this partnership to come together,” Dr. Herring shares.

Saleemah McNeil, founder of the Maternal Wellness Village and Co-PI on the grant, agrees and shares the backstory of the relationship started forming.

“Kirby gives the phrase ‘sliding into your DM’s a whole new meaning. I met Kirby in 2018 after months of posting on Instagram about Maternal Mental Health in the Black community,” McNeil recalls. “She messaged me, introduced herself and said, ‘If there’s any way I can support your work, let me know.’

“In 2019, I put that offer to the test when I was presented with an opportunity to meet with faculty at Temple University about my work. Without hesitation, she helped me prepare for a meeting that would ultimately change our lives forever. Since then, we have collectively worked to nurture our relationship, grow together and build trust. This PCORI grant will change the narrative for Black birthing families at Temple Hospital and she plays a big role in helping this come together.”

Dr. Wycoff notes that work on the study formally launched in November, after two years of establishing a foundation designed to partner, collaborate and amplify voices from the impacted communities.

She will lead all aspects of qualitative inquiry on the study through implementation science and rapid analysis methods that focus on, and capture the perspective of, key stakeholders throughout the healthcare system and community.

She will also co-lead the study’s evaluation process, working to train community partners and team members to develop processes that ensure validity and reliability in their analytic approach.

“Jefferson was brought in as a key academic partner in the project because of our expertise in trauma-informed practices and systems,” Wycoff shares. “We are fast becoming the go-to experts in the industry for this innovative work and this is what our Department, led by Dr. Jeanne Felter, has been working towards over the last decade.

“As a public-health researcher and mental-health clinician, with a focus on trauma and communities, I am excited to continue this important collaborative work with the Maternal Wellness Village,  Temple University and Thomas Jefferson University.”