College of Health Solutions faculty collaborate with health community in fight against COVID-19

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Faculty, students and staff from Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions joined with more than 300 members of the health community on Oct. 9 to address Arizona’s efforts in the fight against COVID-19 at the fourth annual Arizona Wellbeing Commons conference.

Several of the college's faculty led discussions at this year’s virtual event, which drew health care providers, researchers and educators from all parts of Arizona.  

Keynote speakers, reports and breakout sessions highlighted Arizona’s efforts to fight COVID-19  around the Arizona Wellbeing Commons’ seven areas of inquiry: 

  • Neurobiology, aging, dementias and movement disorders.

  • Cancer prevention, detection, management and treatment.

  • Viruses, immunity, microbiomes and infectious disease.

  • Nutrition, obesity, exercise and lifestyle.

  • Mental health, substance abuse, crime and behavior change.

  • Public health and health care services: law, policy and equity.

  • Culture, arts, design and humanities in health.

David Sklar, a physician, College of Health Solutions professor and senior adviser to the ASU provost, led the reporting and discussion in the public health and health care services area, or “swarm” as the areas are called for their flexible structure that allows busy health professionals to come and go as their schedules permit. Participants discussed how the medical situation has evolved since the pandemic began, noting the greater availability of personal protective equipment, although masks are still being reused, and more awareness in emergency rooms about COVID-19-related complications.

“We identified COVID-19 as a priority, but we wanted to make sure that public health also focuses on other public health issues such as climate change and vulnerable populations,” Sklar said, adding that many clinicians discussed their work on that front, including Sue Pepin, a clinical professor in the College of Health Solutions and managing director of health and clinical partnerships at ASU, who recently won a grant to examine the effect of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups.

Health Solutions professors Dorothy Sears and Stavros Kavouras led the nutrition, obesity, exercise and lifestyle swarm, emphasizing the importance of nutrition and exercise in preventing and managing chronic diseases, which evidence has shown make people more susceptible to COVID-19. They also led a breakout session where attendees shared interests and initiatives toward new collaborations in healthy lifestyle projects that reduce vulnerability to disease. Sears noted one promising initiative from Danielle Gilliam, a medical science liaison at the health care company Novo Nordisk, who discussed her efforts to include obesity care training in medical school curricula and national certification testing.

Leading one of the breakout sessions was Mara Aspinall, a Health Solutions professor of practice and co-founder of ASU’s biomedical diagnostics master’s degree program, the first degree of its kind in the U.S. Her group discussed the Arizona business community’s innovative response to COVID-19. “Many companies are working to improve conditions created by COVID-19 with technology solutions,” Aspinall said, citing an app created by the Tucson-based company Pyx Health to help improve the mental health of those experiencing loneliness due to isolation, a growing concern during the socially distanced COVID-19 era. 

Since its beginning in 2017, the Arizona Wellbeing Commons annual conference has brought together Arizona health professionals from academia, clinical practice and the business community for meaningful collaboration toward a healthier Arizona. While the focus was again the same, the current challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic brought greater urgency to this year’s conversations.

“COVID-19 has intensified the need for experts across disciplines to work together to improve the health of all Arizonans,'' said Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions. “The Arizona Wellbeing Commons has been extremely successful in stimulating collaborative work like this, leading to real, actionable solutions that address the current health crisis as well as future challenges. While the challenges brought on by this pandemic are like none other we have faced, I remain positive and hopeful for a better, healthier future.”

Learn more about the results of the day’s events as well as details about the conference’s sessions and speakers.