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Center for Health, Work & Environment Receives Award to Continue National Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health®

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The Center for Health, Work & Environment (CHWE) at the Colorado School of Public Health has been awarded a five-year, approximately $6 million dollar, cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to operate a Center of Excellence for Total Worker Health. Support of this program from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will further advance Total Worker Health (TWH) as an emerging field of science and practice and address the needs of the 21st century of workforce through research, intervention, and outreach activities. 

CHWE first received designation as a CDC/NIOSH Center of Excellence in 2016. With this renewal, it will be one of 10 centers nationwide. The Centers of Excellence represent the extramural portfolio of TWH research to further its mission of protecting and advancing the safety, health, and well-being of the diverse population of workers in our nation. Under the direction center director, primary investigator, and University of Colorado Distinguished Professor Lee Newman, MD, MA, the new funding will support research on emerging issues impacting the well-being of American workers as well a robust community outreach program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the public of the high value we all place on having safe, healthy, and productive workplaces,” said Dr. Newman. “Now more than ever, there is a demand for research and interventions designed to keep workers safe."

The award will fund three new research projects led by investigators from the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), CU School of Medicine, and Colorado State University (CSU). Dr. Cathy Bradly, professor and associate dean for research at the ColoradoSPH and deputy director of the CU Cancer Center, will partner with Drs. Lee Newman and Lili Tenney to lead a five-year study that examines the employment experience of low-income, Latino men newly diagnosed with cancer. This flagship project will test a clinical-based TWH intervention delivered by oncology care teams to improve patients’ ability to continue working during cancer therapy. 

Dr. Kathy James, associate professor at ColoradoSPH, and Dr. Gwen Fisher, associate professor at CSU, will launch a new project that addresses behavioral health for farm workers and owners in the San Luis Valley of southern rural Colorado. A growing body of evidence shows that anxiety, depression, suicide, and other behavioral health challenges occur at significantly higher rates among U.S. agricultural workers, magnified by physical isolation from medical providers. The project will further investigate the contributions to this crisis and form a network of community partners and providers to better support the community.

The third project will be a two-year study to adapt and test a workforce mental health intervention with emergency preparedness programs in PreK-8 schools (led by ColoradoSPH assistant professors Dr. Courtney Welton-Mitchel and Dr. Natalie Schwatka). The project will review and co-create revisions to emergency preparedness plans and the mental health supports in participating schools.

The award will also support the center’s TWH initiatives including Health Links™, a program providing businesses with TWH assessment, certification, and advising. The outreach core, led by Dr. Tenney, will focus on dissemination and implementation projects to reach underserved organizations and working communities including small businesses, Latinx, and Black workforces. The award will support the development of new TWH training in the areas of behavioral health, leadership, and emerging issues. 

“The exposures of the traditional workplace have been expanded,” said Dr. Tenney. “Our center has been developing TWH initiates for the past five years and is excited to continue working with an expanded portfolio of research and outreach projects that are issue-driven. Our goal is to understand and adapt evidence and practice to the inevitable changing nature of work.”

“With this award, we can focus on partnerships with business leaders and employees to find and implement practical solutions that benefit all workers, especially those at greatest risk of job-related injuries and illness,” Newman said.  “We are committed to protecting and promoting the health and well-being of workers in the state of Colorado and the region, especially those who are in greatest need,” Newman added.

Learn more about the NIOSH Total Worker Health program. For more information on the Centers of Excellence, please visit NIOSH’s website.