The Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women's Health

Community Engagement

DEW Point Program

ImageThe Department's unique Division of Equity in Women's and Perinatal Medicine (DEW Point) developed by Dr. Irwin R. Merkatz and Dr. Karla Damus promotes faculty development of culturally competent leaders to address the challenging clinical, research and educational issues that are reflected in persistent health outcome and health care delivery gaps in the United States. The "DEW Point Scholars" are the backbone of this program, reflecting the Department's plan for mentoring young faculty who will be prepared to address racial and ethnic disparities in women's and perinatal health. A superb cadre of uniquely committed and culturally diverse faculty and fellows have been chosen as DEW Point Scholars. This group of young, culturally competent, highly trained academic clinical scientists integrate sociocultural determinants of health and robust quantitative basic science and clinical research to promote effective interventions directed at health outcome disparities throughout a women's life in the Bronx.

DEW Point Scholars have included Garfield Clunie, MD, Nereida Correa, MD, Ashlesha Dayal, MD, Marsha Guess, MD, Gloria Huang, MD, Dineo Khabele, MD, Genevieve Neal-Perry, MD, PhD, Lubna Pal, MD, Setul Pardanani, MD, Wendy Wilcox, MD, MPH, and Rodney Wright, MD. These DEW Point Scholars were prominently featured at the Department's annual Autumn in New York conference in November 2003, which focused on gender as well as other sub-group disparities in health outcomes.

Dr. Irwin Merkatz, The Chella and Moise Safra Professor and University Chair, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health, has said " As academic leaders, members of the Einstein community must be proactive, particularly when serving families in the diverse community of the Bronx...Our hope is that the DEW Point program will become a national model for offering women and minority physicians greater opportunities for advancement in academia and in their medical practices. Our goal is to provide an integrated training site for a significant segment of the health force of the future, and to equip them with the tools needed for providing more equitable and culturally sensitive care."


DEWPoint Successes in Acquisition of Grant Funding

The summer of 2009 was truly a summer of excellence in extramural funding for our Department, and served as a marker of the maturation of our Department’s DEWPoint Program. While DEWPoint has seen many successes over the past several years, in 2009 it achieved special prominence. DEWPoint Program faculty have now obtained important and elusive grant funding for their research, and Departmental Chairman Dr. Irwin R. Merkatz is rightfully proud of the all the efforts put into these accomplishments. Some examples of the plethora of recent success through the DEWPoint Program are:

Dr. Francine Einstein, Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine, has been awarded a highly sought-after and prestigious independent researcher R01 Award from the NIH’s Roadmap Epigenomics Program ($2.03 million). Dr. Einstein will study “Genome-Wide DNA Methylation Profiles Associated with Abnormal Intrauterine Growth”, offering a novel hypothesis that conditions during fetal development alter epigenetic patterns of DNA methylation in non-embryonic stems cells which may be a marker for, or contribute to, susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and other age-related diseases. The study will utilize an innovative technology, developed by Dr. John Greally, Director of the Center for Epigenomics at Einstein and co-Investigator for this study, to map epigenome-wide DNA methylation in non-embryonic stem cells of neonates exposed to abnormal intrauterine conditions marked by the extremes of birth weight. Dr. Einstein hopes that understanding the complex epigenetic underpinnings of fetal origins of adult disease may not only provide insight in to the developmental contributions to chronic diseases, like diabetes but may further enhance our understanding of many other age-related diseases.

Dr. Siobhan Dolan, Division of Reproductive Genetics, has been awarded a 2 year NIH grant entitled “Ethical & Social Implications of Genetic Testing In the Case of Unexpected Deaths”. This grant award was offered under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and was one of very few funded. This project brings together an outstanding Yeshiva University team including Dr. Robert Marion of CERC and Pediatric Genetics, Dr. Christine Walsh and Dr. Tom McDonald of Cardiology, Dr. Louise Silverstein of the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and Mr. David Wasserman of the Center for Ethics. This research project grew from the work being done at the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cardiogenetics, where state-of-the-art testing and intervention to families that have experienced a sudden unexpected death (SIDS in an infant, SUDS in an older individual) is being offered through a collaborative effort of clinicians and researchers. In this funded research, Dr. Dolan and her colleagues will examine the ethical, legal and social issues that arise in the translation of genetic knowledge to clinical care in the area of cardiogenetics based on input from expert advisors and affected families. This multidisciplinary approach will provide new insights into the ethical, legal and social issues that accompany advances in translational medicine.

Two other faculty have achieved high honors in funding as well, with Dr. Gloria Huang and Dr. Mary King both being named RSDP awards winners (Research Science Development Program). Dr. King is a Phase I awardee, and Dr. Huang has been notified that she has won the competitive Phase II award of the RSDP program. These awards will allow Drs. Huang and King to train in research laboratories for additional years, preparing them to qualify as independent scientists for future NIH research.

In other important grant news, Dr. Monica Dragoman has received Kenneth J. Ryan Residency Training Program in Abortion and Family Planning funding for one year, and Dr. Marie Mehnke, current fellow in the Division of REI, has received a T32 NIH training grant.

ImageDivision of Public Health and Community Programs
Karla Damus, PhD, RN, FAAN

A strong interest in public health exists in the department, which supports a Division of Public Health and Community Programs. Several division members hold Master's of Public Health degrees. The division has been involved in many community projects designed to improve the health of the community surrounding the medical school, including the nationally known program PROPP (Program to Reduce Obstetrical Problems and Prematurity). This was a large grant-funded program from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Greater New York Chapter of the March of Dimes which viewed the problem of preterm birth as a community problem requiring community solutions. Through PROPP, linkages were formed with all the other providers of prenatal care in the Bronx. Common protocols were developed, a common interdisciplinary medical record was introduced, education was provided to all providers of care, and patient education was initiated with PROPP-developed materials. Drs. Irwin R. Merkatz and Karla Damus developed the PROPP. Dr. Margaret Comerford Freda coordinated the educational efforts throughout the borough of the Bronx.

Complementing the PROPP was a department-inspired Bronx Perinatal Consortium, a program funded by the state of New York as part of an expanded funding of prenatal care. All women in the state whose income placed them under 185% of the poverty level became eligible for this new funding, thus correcting a major financial barrier of access to care for the "working poor." Through the Bronx Perinatal Consortium, the department provided leadership in community organization, computer expertise, and the formulation of important state and local public policy to assist women in the Bronx in obtaining both comprehensive care and access to more sophisticated technologies.

Another public health initiative in which the division faculty were involved was an exchange program with the country of Albania, sponsored by the US Agency for International Development. Division members have visited Albania on several occasions, and hosted Albanian health care providers in the Bronx. Also through this program, a joint conference was held with obstetrics/gynecology providers in Tirana, Albania. This first-ever Albanian/American health care conference focused on Obstetrics, Anesthesia and Neonatal Issues. This project was spearheaded by Nancy DeVore, MSN, CNM, with the participation of multiple Departmental faculty members.

The Division participated in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology's community based program RESPECT (Reducing Risks through Education, a School-based Program to Eliminate Cervical Cancer in Teens) with Dr. Karla Damus, the Program Director. The overall aim of the RESPECT program was to develop and implement a comprehensive, multifaceted, culturally relevant educational program for inner city teens aimed at increasing their knowledge and decreasing their risk for the development of cervical cancer. Over 10,000 high school students attended educational sessions held by Dr. Damus throughout the Bronx.

Recently departmental faculty Drs. Peter Bernstein and Margaret Comerford Freda were selected for membership on the Select Panel of the CDC on Preconception Health, the group convened to develop recommendations for the U.S. about directions to take in preconception care. This work resulted in a dedicated Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in April, 2006, and a special issue of Maternal Child Health Journal about preconception health, published in September 2006.

Other faculty have been active in numerous ways with the March of Dimes. Faculty members Drs. Irwin R. Merkatz, Margaret Comerford Freda and Karla Damus were all selected for the March of Dimes Scientific Advisory Council, the group which formally advises the March of Dimes on the direction it should take in its 10 year commitment to the prevention of preterm birth. This august group, consisting of the most prolific scientists and authors in the field of preterm birth, meets with March of Dimes staff and produces written recommendations about March of Dimes policy regarding preterm birth. Dr. Damus, in addition to her faculty work, also advises the Medical Director at the March of Dimes, and was instrumental in the development of the Perinatal Data Center at the foundation. Dr. Freda serves as the Chair of the National Nurse Advisory Council for the March of Dimes, the group which advises the foundation on all areas of health. Dr. Merkatz has served as a grant reviewer for the March of Dimes PERI grants, as well as other grant awards.

Dr. Rodney Wright has participated in several community programs on behalf of HIV positive women. Recognizing his expertise, he was asked to be the co-moderator of the “Meet the Expert” session on HIV and Pregnancy at the Annual International Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC*), and he was also a facilitator for the New York State AIDS Institute African American HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Forum. In addition, Dr. Wright was also a panelist at the Bronx Community Action for Prenatal Care Forum entitled “Empowering Women: From Struggle to Strength.” Dr. Wright also speaks about HIV and community activism at Grand Rounds in the NY/NJ regional area, most recently at the Saint Vincent's Hospital HIV Center in Manhattan.

Dr. Siobhan Dolan took a team of genetic counseling graduate students from Sarah Lawrence College to Baton Rouge LA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. to help hurricane Katrina families reunite through DNA identity testing. They volunteered at the Louisiana Family Assistance Center, helping reunite families scattered by Hurricane Katrina. The center is especially interested in working with genetic counselors because of their familiarity with family histories, and their experience working with families in crisis. They took family histories (for pedigree structure, not disease) from families of people with a missing member and DNA from close relatives (because the flooding made the usual forensics practice of obtaining a sample of DNA from a missing person's hairbrush or toothbrush impossible). Dr. Dolan and the genetic counselor volunteers called families with missing members, built a family tree, obtained location and contact information for close relatives, determined which relatives were willing to give a DNA sample (via buccal swab) for this purpose, and then provided this information to the personnel scheduling the DNA sample collections.


Public Health and Community Programs Faculty

Peter Bernstein, MD, MPH
Nancy DeVore, MSN, CNM
Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH
Irwin R. Merkatz, MD
Ruth B. Merkatz, PhD, RN, FAAN
Rodney Wright, MD
Magdy Mikhail, MB, BCH
Wendy Wilcox, MD, MPH 

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