The UTHealth Houston School of Public Health received the 2023 Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Harrison C. Spencer Award for Outstanding Community Service.
The distinguished award recognizes the UTHealth Houston School of Public Health’s commitment to prioritizing both a healthy Texas population and a strong Texas economy through the Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute (TEPHI). TEPHI, a new state agency house within UTHealth Houston, is a network of public health professionals and resources that ensure the state is at the forefront of pandemic readiness and response.
The award recognizes Dr. Harrison C. Spencer who had a long-standing commitment to principles of social justice with a focus on community engagement to address the social determinants of health. The annual award is given to an ASPPH member, Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)-accredited school, or program of public health demonstrating a major institutional commitment to addressing community needs through education, practice, or research.
“The Dr. Harrison C. Spencer Award is a distinguished honor,” says Eric Boerwinkle, PhD, Dean of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, “because it acknowledges our community of passion-driven researchers, educators, students, and advocates who hold themselves accountable to a single vision: health without boundaries. Aligning with that vision, our locations throughout the state (Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio) are tightly woven into the fabric of the surrounding community.”
“Through our work to strengthen the public health workforce, develop and disseminate tools to strengthen community readiness, and improve public health communications, our UTHealth Houston School of Public Health and TEPHI serve as a national model of regional readiness to strengthen epidemic preparedness and lay the groundwork for a coordinated response to future infectious disease events,” adds Janelle Rios, PhD, associate professor at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health and interim deputy director of TEPHI.
TEPHI’s approach is informed by lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, both by addressing recognized gaps in the state’s public health infrastructure, and by connecting with and strengthening community partners statewide to build a coordinated network for communications, training, and resources.
TEPHI leverages the robust public health capabilities of the school and maximizes pre-established relationships with community partners and leaders. A focus on community and collaboration is woven into each of TEPHI’s focus areas: readiness, training, and communications. One initiative focuses on readying rural communities – specifically supporting their healthcare systems and the food industry, such as dairy farms and agricultural workers.
Developing relationships with members of these communities, TEPHI identifies and addresses community needs, including developing and delivering culturally appropriate training, enhancing worker health through onsite activities, creating a novel statewide early detection system, and developing and distributing essential needs resource guides.