Center for Health Equity


Sharma, McPherson, John, and Guerrero presented at Healthier Texas Summit

Published: January 3, 2024

Shreela Sharma, PhD, speaks during Q&A Session.
Shreela Sharma, PhD, speaks during Q&A Session.

Shreela Sharma, PhD, RDN, LD, Heidi Hagen McPherson, MPH, Jemima John, PhD, MPH, and Rosalia Guerrero, MBA, CHWI, presented at the Healthier Texas Summit in Austin, TX, October 5-6. This annual conference features keynote speakers, break-out sessions, and Q&A panels with over 700 healthcare professionals, leaders, and innovators present.

Sharma, professor and vice chair, Department of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Health Equity, leads the Food is Medicine affinity group as part of the Texas Non-Medical Drivers of Health Consortium (NMDOH.) The Texas NMDOH Consortium is a statewide collaborative of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers working together to advance the integration of non-medical interventions into the health care delivery system to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities. Sharma and other leaders participated in a Q&A panel this fall highlighting the consortium’s progress in its first year, offering virtual convenings, evaluation support, and building the NMDOH Program Index.

Sharma and McPherson co-lead the Health Equity Collective (HEC), a Houston-wide systems collaboration of over 200 organizations that utilizes a collective impact approach with a mission to address social determinants of health. The HEC includes workgroups where members across organizations meet regularly to address issues such as food insecurity, health promotion and communication, mental health, substance use, community voice, policy, health, and housing.

McPherson along with the leadership of the Health and Housing Workgroup, Dan Potter, PhD, from Kinder Institute of Urban Research and Alan Watkins, MDiv, from the Houston Housing Collaborative, discussed how the collaboration came to be and their plans to address health and housing inequalities in Greater Houston. Currently, no uniform definition exists related to “good housing,” so they are building a survey to understand the state of housing quality. They also emphasized the important role trust and collaboration play in bringing together organizations to effect this needed change.

John, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and the Center for Health Equity, and Guerrero, director of Vulnerable Populations Core with Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute and manager of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health’s Community Health Worker (CHW) Training Program, discussed advancing health equity through journey mapping CHWs’ perspectives with HEC network. Their presentation highlighted their study’s methodology for incorporating community voice, CHWs’ perspectives on systems-level challenges impact in their work, collaborative strategies needed to optimize workforce impact and to elevate CHWs within structural systems as a model to equity advancement, and timely scaffolds needed to optimize workforce impact.  

Their participation at this summit highlights the Center for Health Equity framework on designing and building sustainable solutions to promote health across communities. The framework includes three layers of activity —engagement (human and community-centered evidence-based programs and interventions), intelligence (dynamic insights through data and community voice), and infrastructure (strengthening partnerships and creating shared agenda for collective impact).