Mental health, dental healthcare projects awarded CTSI community partnership grants

2023 seed grant awards.

Top row, from left: Rebecca Ashare, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences; Detric “Dee” Johnson, The National Witness Project; and Sarah Taber-Thomas, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences. Bottom row, from left: Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, LMSW, NBC-HWC, School of Dental Medicine; Brian Pilarski, Seneca-Babcock Community Association, Inc.; Joseph Gambacorta, DDS, School of Dental Medicine; and Jessica S. Kruger, PhD, School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Published February 15, 2023

“The goal is to prepare community-academic partnerships to successfully collaborate on the design of research projects, specifically those that address health disparities and aim to improve health equity."
Laurene M. Tumiel Berhalter.

University-community partnerships designed to address mental health service barriers in Buffalo’s Black community and reduce barriers to seeking oral healthcare for those living in Buffalo’s Seneca-Babcock area are the focus of two unique projects awarded University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) funding from the CTSI Community Partnership Development Seed Grant Program

Creating a Novel Outreach Program for Mental Health Needs in the Black Buffalo Community

University Leads: Rebecca Ashare, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences; Sarah Taber-Thomas, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, and Director, Psychological Services Center, College of Arts and Sciences

Community Lead: Detric “Dee” Johnson, The National Witness Project

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the importance of mental health and well-being while also highlighting the structural inequities that undermine mental and physical health, explains UB’s Ashare.

“We are seeing higher rates of depression, anxiety, stress among members of racial, sexual, and ethnic minorities,” she says. “This is coupled with severe shortages in mental health providers — particularly providers who also identify as racial, sexual, or ethnic minorities.”

Johnson is the executive director of the National Witness Project (NWP), a community-based breast and cervical outreach, education, and navigation program. After the May 2022 mass shooting in Buffalo, she and her team surveyed residents of Buffalo’s East Side, many of whom said mental health was their most important unmet need.

“There is such an urgent need for this work,” says Ashare, adding that the shooting “re-traumatized Buffalo’s Black community and only increased stress, anxiety, and fear.”

To help address that need, the National Witness Project developed a partnership with UB’s Department of Psychology. The result: a health communication project tailored to strategies for reaching, educating, and guiding Buffalo’s Black community to mental health services.  

Johnson believes the seed grant will help the project make an impact in the community: “It is my hope to educate, empower, and activate NWP community health workers to be equipped with the health education tools to raise awareness in the mental health space, and to work with the UB investigators to craft tailored, culturally appropriate health communication and strategies to assess current mental health needs for referral in the Black community.”

“We see the seed grant as the first step in this new partnership and a first step towards building trust in the community,” Ashare adds. “By the end of this project, we hope to learn more about what kind of support the community needs and wants, which will lay the foundation for the development of a community led intervention to address the mental health needs of Buffalo’s Black community.”

Screening for Dental Homes: Supporting Dental Health Navigation Utilizing a Social Work Community Collaboration Approach

University Leads: Sharlynn Daun-Barnett, LMSW, NBC-HWC, CARES Program Coordinator, School of Dental Medicine; Joseph Gambacorta, DDS, Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs, Interim Assistant Vice President for Interprofessional Education, Department of Restorative Dentistry, School of Dental Medicine; Jessica S. Kruger, PhD, Director, Teaching Innovation and Excellence and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions

Community Lead: Brian Pilarski, Executive Director, Seneca-Babcock Community Association, Inc.

Co-investigator: Daniel J. Kruger, PhD, Research Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Health Professions

UB has a long-standing partnership with Seneca-Babcock Community Association to reduce health inequities within the community. In fact, a member of Daun-Barnett’s research team assists with staffing the community’s food pantry.

“Current research indicates that in addition to emergency food distribution, food pantries can serve as a trusted location where complementary services can be delivered to improve the health status of diverse and highly vulnerable populations,” says Daun-Barnett. “To our knowledge, dental outreach has not been attempted at food pantries in Buffalo, so we want to use our relationship with Seneca-Babcock to pilot these services there.”

“People in the community are in need of dental services; there is no dentist in the area and many people lack dental health coverage,” says Pilarski, executive director of the Seneca-Babcock Community Association. “This project will allow them to establish care and get food assistance at the same time.”

Pikarski sees this project as an example of effective community engagement, as it will “help connect people with a dentist and hopefully demonstrate the importance of linking health services with other community activities.”

The dental screening process includes a social worker from the CARES Program (Counseling, Advocacy, Referral, Education and Service), a collaboration between UB’s Schools of Dental Medicine and Social Work created to address access to oral healthcare issues faced by a diverse population in Western New York, with a particular focus on Buffalo’s Seneca-Babcock community. The social worker will help participants set-up appointments at the dental school for follow-up treatment and discuss how to reduce any oral health barriers the individuals may have.

“This seed grant supports participants in establishing a dental home in Buffalo by providing funds to reduce barriers to care, and to purchase dental outreach supplies, like fluoride varnish, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss,” Daun-Barnett explains. “This process is something that we hope to refine and possibly replicate at other sites in WNY.”

"Each partner plays an essential role"

The CTSI seed grants support the planning of community-based participatory research partnerships and engagement of communities in research. According to CTSI Community Engagement Core Director Laurene M. Tumiel-Berhalter, PhD, Director of Community Translational Research, Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, “the goal is to prepare community-academic partnerships to successfully collaborate on the design of research projects, specifically those that address health disparities and aim to improve health equity. It is important that each partner play an essential role in the project.”

Visit the CTSI website for a complete list of current and past CTSI Community Partnership Development Seed Grant awardees.