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Published on January 26, 2021

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Avera Research Charts New Courses to Help Communities

The Avera Research Institute Center for Pediatric & Community Research continues to expand its exploration and impacts on communities in need.

Two new programs go beyond data gathering and information analysis and make changes in the lives of western South Dakota American Indian communities.

Using Information to Address Community Health

The two programs are called Systems of Native Community Health (SYNCH) and Native Opportunities to Stop Hypertension (NOSH) and both will focus on populations in Rapid City, S.D., region. SYNCH, which has been underway for about three years, is focused on health disparities within complex problems that can include behavioral health issues, trauma and violence, addiction, substance abuse and poverty. NOSH, which will begin recruiting participants in January, is a behavioral intervention focused on reducing high blood pressure in adults.

“No single factor occurs in vacuum, and that means these complex problems require understanding the many parts of these sometimes crisis-level issues,” said Arielle Deutsch, PhD, principal investigator of the SYNCH program. “We’re working with communities to create a visual model of how the parts interact, and how the personal stories and situations can guide efforts to address community health.”

Both programs work with adult populations.

“Washington State University sought us out to partner with them and expand the populations they have studied, adding tribal groups from the Great Plains to ongoing research they’ve completed in the Pacific Northwest and Oklahoma,” said Rebecca Andrew, MS, manager of the NOSH program’s Rapid City site. “We’re working with clinics in our area, including community health and Indian health clinics. It is an exciting opportunity for our team and our community partners, along with community members that may benefit from this program.”

Community-Based, On-the-Ground Relationships

Developing significant connections with participants is part of both programs.

“Through the SYNCH project, we’re focused on relationship-building,” Deutsch said. “It comes first in order to find approaches that will work. It can’t be an Avera program or a National Institutes of Health program – it must be their program. To properly address the trauma, dysfunction and multigenerational family issues, it has to be personal.”

SYNCH will include 400 contacts from Rapid City and Pine Ridge.

The NOSH study will provide participants with nutritional consultations as well as at-home blood pressure monitors. Clinical coordinators also will take part in weekly motivational interviews which help participants set goals, overcome barriers and personalize changes in their diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors that affect hypertension.

“The program also includes a stipend for groceries, so the participants can develop new dietary habits,” said Jessica Holsworth, senior clinical research coordinator. “Addressing hypertension with lifestyle changes is a cost-effective approach. That’s what the goal-setting interviews can help participants attain.”

NOSH also provides ongoing resources and education during its 12-week timeframe. Its data will contribute to insights gained from their Washington State University partners. It’s hoped that information can help teams – regardless of location – to anticipate barriers and overcome them as they potentially share the findings with more populations.

Evolving Research Efforts

Both projects represent the growth and diversification of Avera research.

“Our expansion allows us to address needs and showcase the effective nature of interventional research – it can make important differences,” Andrew said. “It’s actual real-world changes for the better at its core.”

Part of the change reflects learning from researchers.

“Finding solutions that work for the communities – that’s really the goal of all the Avera research programs,” said Deutsch. “The priorities of our communities are at the heart of these developing expansions in our work.”

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