ASPPH Recognizes Excellence in Rollins Faculty

January 19, 2021
2021 ASPPH Excellence Awards

By Karina Antenucci 

Two Rollins faculty members are the recipients of the prestigious 2021 ASPPH Excellence Awards, which recognize public health leaders for their service and achievements in teaching, research, practice, and student services. Dr. Michael Kramer, PhD, MMSc, associate professor of epidemiology, director of Emory Maternal and Child Health Center of Excellence and co-investigator for the RISE Education Core, has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 ASPPH Teaching Excellence Award, recognizing him for excellence in teaching, research, and mentorship. Dr. Melissa (Moose) Alperin, EdD, MPH, MCHES, director of the Executive MPH program and PI and director of the Region IV Public Health Training Center, received the 2021 ASPPH Practice Excellence Award, recognizing her for devoting her career to advancing and integrating scholarly public health practice within research, teaching, and service.

The two distinguished award recipients will be recognized at ASPPH’s Annual Meeting in March 2021. Here is more about them and the exciting projects they are currently working on at Rollins:

Dr. Kramer’s work centers around social epidemiology and specifically, maternal and child health, and using place-based indicators that help communities think about particular strategies for action to address social determinants of health. 

One of his current research projects that began a few years ago involves working with the CDC and a number of state agencies, along with MPH, doctoral and post-doctoral Rollins students, that takes a look at how to improve the quality of surveillance around maternal mortality in order to do a better job of understanding the racial and geographic disparities in maternal mortality so that states can make better recommendations to reduce these disparities. 

“This project is important because we’ve had high maternal mortality in the U.S. and racial land geographic disparities in maternal mortality that are even larger than those seen for outcomes like infant mortality. Many of the tools that we have in public health to try to identify the reason for these disparities are good at finding problems and solutions at the individual level or within health care delivery. What those surveillance systems are not so good at doing are looking at the social experience of the mother across the life course. We’ve got this huge racial disparity but the conventional tools we have to evaluate it are all focused in hospital,” he says.

Kramer created a new tool kit that states can use in their maternal death review process that provides a wider look beyond the hospital setting. “What public health needs to think about are solutions that include, but also go beyond the biomedical or clinical medicine. This project is an attempt to understand and change the conversation in maternal death reviews by seeing the tragic sequence of events that ended in death in the context of a person’s life course and social context,” he says.

Additionally, Kramer is collaborating with Grady Health and Emory’s School of Nursing, as well as Rollins MPH and post-doctoral students, to focus on the drivers of maternal morbidity, which is illness that either occurred or was exacerbated because of pregnancy that could have resulted in death. There are tens of thousands of these “near misses” in the U.S. each year, says Kramer. “The U.S., overall, is doing a terrible job [with maternal morbidity] compared to other first-world countries. Georgia is doing particularly bad within the U.S. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.”

The challenges of this project are identifying and prioritizing what the things are that can shift the needle. “It goes back to the way we ask the question and think of the problem. Beyond individual choice, we’re looking at issues around transportation, trauma informed care, and affordable housing, for example,” Kramer says. “We’re looking across the state of Georgia at OB care access in rural parts of the state and issues with Medicaid and barriers to accessing and maintain coverage.”

Kramer says of the ASPPH award: “I came to and stayed in academia largely because I love teaching and working with students. I get a lot of energy from that. Teaching is a part of my work that I love. I was floored by [the award]. Some of the students who participated in the nomination shared a letter and it was touching to hear their reflections on our experience together. That was very powerful. I love teaching, so the award is a bonus.”

Read Dr. Kramer’s full bio here. 

Dr. Alperin has a long history of serving in leadership roles for numerous workforce development and public health practice initiatives. One of her current roles is PI of the HRSA-funded Region IV Public Health Training Center (PHTC), which is headquartered at Emory, focuses on the Southeast, and is one of 10 regional PHTCs in the country. The training center has three activities including conducting needs assessments to determine what the public health needs are in the region; providing training for the public health workforce throughout the Southeast; and identifying internship opportunities and providing field placements for public health students, including Rollins students.

“There is a huge public health need in the South, where about 26% of the U.S. population lives. Our states typically rank low in many health metrics and so the public health needs are great,” says Alperin.

Alperin enjoys seeing the Rollins lifecycle come to fruition for students involved in the PHTC’s internships. “It’s been wonderful to see students do their placement at a particular agency and then when they graduate, get a full-time job at the agency. I’ve also seen graduates who were interns with the program later become our interns’ mentors,” she says. “When we have asked students about their experience, 97% of students in these placements say they have increased interest in working with vulnerable populations.”

In mid-December 2020, Alperin began a new project, the Interim COVID-19 After Action Report, for the Georgia Department of Public Health, looking at the COVID-19 response in Georgia during the first nine months of the pandemic. This project came out of her work with the Georgia Hurricane Response Hub. The Director of the Healthcare Preparedness Program requested that Alperin, who had been a good partner on the hurricane project, write a proposal and apply for funding, which she received.

“We will be conducting interviews, focus groups, and surveys to examine the first nine months of pandemic response. This work will allow us to identify strengths, challenges, best practices, and lessons learned to be able to share with our state public health colleagues,” says Alperin. “Hopefully, our findings will be beneficial as the state continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, you do an assessment like this when an emergency is over but we’re in the middle of the pandemic so this project has immediate utility.” 

Alperin says of the ASPPH award:It’s a wonderful honor. I have been at Emory for over 30 years and have devoted my entire career to working with the PH workforce in a variety of different ways. To be honored and recognized for my work, work that I think is really important, is lovely.”

Read Dr. Alperin’s full bio here.