New center looking at community health launches in the School of Social Work

J. David Hawkins


The Center for Interventions to Enhance Community Health (CiTECH) in the School of Social Work was launched Dec. 6 with the aim of turning medical treatment and prevention ideas into realities geared toward the needs of individual communities.

Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, dean of the School of Social Work“We sometimes get very excited by … what we call the hard sciences,” said the school’s dean, Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, at the opening event. “Then you think about — but how are we actually going to use this to make a difference in people’s lives?”

Center director Shaun Eack, the school’s James and Noel Browne Endowed Chair and associate dean for research, explained before the event that CiTECH is a collaboration with the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, since the need to bring new mental health care and prevention strategies out of the lab and into the community is acute.

“We know a lot of things that would help people,” Eack said. “Despite all we know, very few of these practices and knowledge are implemented in the community.”

CiTECH will first target Homewood, based in Pitt’s Community Engagement Center there, and then branch throughout Allegheny County.

“This center is really trying to build a bridge between the University and the community,” Eack said, to “make practices more likely to be used in the community.”

Creating a healthy community is not simply about encouraging people to go to the doctor often enough, he added. Community health depends on the collaboration of all parts of the health system, and the support of family and neighbors in encouraging healthy behaviors.

For example, CiTECH aids one project directed toward helping those with psychosis.

“It doesn’t always fit terribly well into the regular services system,” Eack explained. For one, it requires the commitment of more resources than a particular healthcare facility might be able to muster.

Then there are the problems of practicality: “It is so new, it doesn’t have a billing code,” Eack said. “These are issues beyond any one individual coming to a clinic.”

CiTECH, in this case, helped to secure funding for a project demonstrating this new psychosis program, and brings health care providers together to make sure the program works for everyone.

CiTECH is now offering grants to young investigators bringing new discoveries to a community.

Shaun Eack“This is a risky endeavor,” Eack said. “It takes scientists out of their laboratories at the University and puts them out in the real world.”

The hope, he says, is that people will get the most appropriate care they need and the care that will make the most difference in their lives.

“If we are successful,” Eack said, “we hope to substantially improve the quality of behavioral health care in Allegheny County and throughout the nation.”

J. David Hawkins, an emeritus faculty member in the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, opened CiTECH with a talk on the need to assess health priorities and risks at the community level, and to adopt different preventions for different communities.

He encouraged health care researchers to “address the predictors of the problem” behaviors, such as the availability of guns and drugs in a community, and to develop interventions that target risk factors that can be changed.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in the science of prevention,” he noted. “We haven’t made a lot of progress in the funding of prevention. How are we going to ensure the healthy development of all youth?”

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.