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UCLA and MolinaCares Announce 10 Finalists in the Health Equity Challenge

Finalists - who include four UCLA Fielding School of Public Health graduate or doctoral students - will develop proposals to address a health equity issue in California and two organizations will be awarded $50,000

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Date: 
Thursday, May 5, 2022
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The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health's UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) and MolinaCares today named the 10 finalists in the inaugural Health Equity Challenge, a competition that provides UCLA graduate students the opportunity to respond to a health equity issue in California. The 10 finalists will turn their ideas into full proposals that a community-based organization can implement, and two community organizations will be awarded up to $50,000 each in funding to implement the project.

“We asked UCLA graduate students for ideas to improve health equity in California and they really delivered,” said Dr. Kathryn Kietzman, project lead and director of the UCLA CHPR Health Equity Program. “There were so many impressive submissions showing true innovation, passion, and leadership. These proposals all have the potential to have a tangible impact on communities who face significant inequities: LGBTQ+ people, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, immigrants, older adults, Black girls, and many more.”

Selected projects include direct interventions and program development, and range from an app on gender-affirming treatment for transgender and gender diverse youth, to a de-escalation toolkit for medical providers working with patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis, to an intervention aimed at improving the quality of maternal care for immigrant women.

 “As an aspiring OBGYN, I am interested in addressing disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality, including maternal mental health conditions which disproportionately affect systemically marginalized groups,” said Alma Lopez, a Health Equity Challenge finalist and MD and Master of Public Policy dual degree student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “I hope that through the Health Equity Challenge, we can help address maternal mental health inequities among Los Angeles communities of color and low socioeconomic status, and bridge access gaps to compassionate quality care.”

Each student finalist will be awarded $2,500 and paired with a mentor to develop a full project proposal over the next 10 weeks and identify a community partner to partner with. At the end of the project, an independent review committee will review the final proposals: two winners will be announced and their selected community organizations will receive up to $50,000 each to implement the proposal. The two winning students will receive an additional $2,500 and to continue to document the impact of the project’s implementation.

The 10 finalists are:

Sonya Brooks
PhD in Urban Schooling student, UCLA Graduate School of Education
Project: Create convivial spaces for Black girls and their mothers/caregivers to cook and share intergenerational narratives, navigating through spaces of healing, health, and advocating for their unmet needs.
Mentor: Dr. Keith C. Norris, Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Lei Chen
PhD in Social Welfare student, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Project: Develop a “Research-Practice Consensus” program to connect researchers and community organizations working with older immigrant adults to bridge the gap in health care and social services and build trust and solidarity with each other.
Mentor: Dr. Keith C. Norris, Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Annalea Forrest
Master of Social Welfare and Master of Public Health, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
Project: Develop an integrative health platform to increase the accessibility, availability, and affordability of psychotherapeutic services, trauma informed exercise, and nutritional counseling for BIPOC and low-income communities in Los Angeles.
Mentor: Dr. Rashmi Mullur, Endocrinologist, UCLA Health

James Huỳnh
PhD in Community Health Sciences student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
Project: Develop an Intergenerational LGBTQ+ Community Space to bridge the social gap between different generations of Vietnamese, Latinx, and Black immigrants, refugees, and their children.
Mentor: Dr. Ilan H. Meyer, Professor of Community Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; and Distinguished Senior Scholar for Public Policy, Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law

Angelica Johnsen
Doctor of Medicine student, College of Medicine, Charles R. Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program
Project: Develop a de-escalation toolkit for medical providers working with patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis, providing guidance on de-escalating high-acuity mental health crises and stabilizing patients who are in distress, without correctional measures, such as incarceration, chemical, or physical restraints.
Mentor: Dr. O. Kenrik Duru, Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Gwendolyn Lee
Doctor of Medicine student, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine
Project: Create an obesity and weight management program for adults who obtain health care at Los Angeles County safety net hospitals.
Mentor: Dr. Michael Garcia, Assistant Professor of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Alma Lopez
MD and Master of Public Policy dual degree student, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Project: Work with community clinics to address gaps and disparities in maternal mental health, including developing a series of workshops for pregnant and recently pregnant women for education on peripartum mental health and recognition of symptoms.
Mentor: Dr. Michael Ong, Professor of Health Policy and Management, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; and Professor in Residence of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Michelle Kao Nakphong
PhD in Community Health Sciences student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
Project: Develop a community-level patient education approach to educate immigrant women about their rights to high-quality care and empower them in their own care, and a health care systems audit and feedback approach aimed at designing a quality improvement program within the health care system.
Mentor: Dr. Candace Gragnani, Associate Physician Diplomate, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Bianca Salvetti
Doctor of Nursing Practice student, UCLA School of Nursing
Project: Implement an educational app with information on gender-affirming treatment — benefits, risks, resources, and potential long-term effects — to improve knowledge and decisional conflict amongst transgender and gender diverse youth and their caregivers.
Mentor: Dr. Erin Baroni, Clinical Instructor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA

Skye Shodahl
PhD in Community Health Sciences student, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
Project: Advance breast/chestfeeding equity in Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) pregnant and lactating parents, through the development of a culturally tailored and linguistically relevant breast/chestfeeding toolkit for providers to share with share with this overlooked and understudied population.
Mentor: Dr. May Wang, Professor of Community Health Sciences, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health

“Assuring equitable care for diverse populations is a challenge for us all nationally, but even more so in California,” said Carolyn Ingram, executive director of The Molina Healthcare Charitable Foundation. “That’s why I am so thrilled that MolinaCares has been able to partner with UCLA in selecting this set of future health care leaders as they design innovations to reduce disparities in communities across the Los Angeles area.”

Visit the Health Equity Challenge website.

by Tiffany Lopes


The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has 761 students from 26 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world.