College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Faculty Confront COVID-19 Questions

Preety Gadhoke, Ph.D., M.P.H., Afolarin Joshua Aiyedun, Ed.D., Yolene Gouse, Dr.PH., M.P.H., Cdr. (Ret.) Harlem Gunness, Ph.D., M.P.H.

L to R: Preety Gadhoke, Ph.D., M.P.H.; Afolarin Joshua Aiyedun, Ed.D.; Yolene Gousse, Dr.PH., M.P.H.; Cdr. (Ret.) Harlem Gunness, Ph.D., M.P.H.

November 20, 2020

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. John’s University faculty mobilized their talent and resources around combating this unprecedented public health crisis by identifying communities that are most vulnerable, assessing their needs, and suggesting how best to meet those needs.

On November 10, the Department of Pharmacy Administration and Public Health in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences sponsored a webinar, “COVID-19 and the Public Health Response,” highlighting the impactful work that the Public Health faculty at St. John’s University conducted to support local and global communities severely affected by the pandemic.

“I am delighted that our Public Health faculty have taken the initiative to present the extraordinary work that they are contributing in the battle against COVID-19,” observed Russell J. DiGate, Ph.D., Dean, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “This public health crisis touches all of us, and our research programs closely align with the University’s Vincentian mission. I know that our researchers will continue their research and produce vital contributions to the post-COVID era.”

Cdr. (Ret.) Harlem J. Gunness, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor/Industry Professional, and Director of the Public Health program, conducted a pandemic readiness assessment of residents in crowded urban districts severely affected by COVID-19 that included the communities of Corona and Elmhurst, in Queens, NY. He sought to identify barriers to pandemic readiness and increase awareness among the population of the potential second wave of COVID-19.

Dr. Gunness noted that these communities had the highest number of COVID cases in all of New York City, and both the African American and Latino communities were dramatically affected. Dr. Gunness added that severe overcrowding and elevated chronic conditions largely contributed to the spread among these populations.

With support from politicians and leaders in these communities, Dr. Gunness prepared survey questions on social distancing, food security, quarantine and isolation capabilities (even in crowded housing conditions), social support, access to health care, and access to health information. One of Dr. Gunness’s primary goals was increasing health literacy among these vulnerable populations.

Preety Gadhoke, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Professor, noted that the goal of her research was identifying and responding to the impact of the COVID-19 “syndemic” in the greater New York City metropolitan area and across New York State. The syndemic theory describes the interaction of systemic racism, social environment, and intersecting pathways (collectively referred to as social determinants of health) that have led to an increased risk of COVID-19-related complications among racial/ethnic minority adults living with two or more diseases, Dr. Gadhoke explained.

“We believe that our faculty research and scholarship really strengthen the quality of teaching and mentorship through hands-on public practice,” she said. “There has never been a better time to focus on public health.”

Yolene Gousse, Dr.PH., M.P.H., Assistant Professor/Industry Professional, conducted a pandemic needs assessment for the population of Haiti, which has experienced more than 32,000 suspected COVID-19 cases and more than 9,000 confirmed cases. She noted that the country never recovered from the devastating Hurricane Matthew in 2010, and the population was already vulnerable due to impoverished conditions and poor health care.

Dr. Gousse said this project had great implications for social justice and human rights, and ties in directly with the University’s Vincentian mission. “It is an opportunity to serve those in need and promote and provide a culture of physical health, wellness, and human welfare.”

Afolarin Joshua Aiyedun, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, explained that the goal of his research was to assess the impact of COVID-19 on individuals diagnosed with chronic illnesses and the ability to manage those illnesses in the midst of a pandemic. Dr. Aiyedun explained that it is critical for health-care providers to empower self-efficacious behaviors and improve health literacy among their patients, especially those over the age of 60.

“Part of the mission of St. John’s is to address the needs of the poor, the underserved, and underlying social justice issues,” Dr. Gunness said. “I feel that as a faculty member, as a public health practitioner, and as someone who is committed to improving the lives of fellow New Yorkers and beyond, we really had to do something to address this pandemic.”