Lisa Cooper, MD
Dr. Lisa Cooper is a Liberian-born general internist, social epidemiologist, and health services researcher. As the Director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, Dr. Cooper leads the Institute in its mission to advance health and health equity across Baltimore City. Dr. Cooper is also the James F. Fries Professor of Medicine and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor for Equity in Health and Health Care in the Johns Hopkins University Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health. She is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, where she and her transdisciplinary team work with stakeholders, from healthcare and the community implement rigorous clinical trials, identifying interventions that alleviate racial and income disparities in social determinants and health outcomes.
Dr. Cooper was one of the first scientists to document disparities in the quality of relationships between physicians and patients from socially at-risk groups. She then designed innovative interventions targeting physicians’ communication skills, patients’ self-management skills, and healthcare organizations’ ability to address needs of populations experiencing health disparities. She is the author of over 200 publications and has been the principal investigator of more than 15 federal and private foundation grants. She has also been a devoted mentor to more than 75 individuals seeking careers in medicine, nursing, and public health.
Dr. Cooper has received several honors for her pioneering research, teaching, and mentoring, including a 2007 MacArthur Fellowship, membership in the National Academy of Medicine, the Association of American Medical Colleges Herbert W. Nickens Award Herbert W. Nickens Award for outstanding contributions to social justice in medical education and equity in healthcare in the United States and theAmerican Public Health Association Helen Rodríguez-Trìas Social Justice Award. She has also been recognized by several community organizations locally and nationally for her community engagement and advocacy to address health disparities.
Amy Gawad, MPH
Amy Gawad works on developing new initiatives and oversees ongoing activities at UHI. Prior to joining our team, she was a research associate at the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), where she oversaw the William T. Grant Foundation Youth Development Prize Committee. In addition, she served as the research associate on a number of reports, including Ethical Considerations for Research on Housing-Related Health Hazards Involving Children; Working Families and Growing Kids: Caring for Children and Adolescents; and Community Programs to Promote Youth Development. Prior to her work on youth development at the NAS, she had responsibility for the dissemination of board reports, including “From Neurons to Neighborhoods”, a report on the science of early childhood development. She received her Master of Public Health from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
Director, Bunting Neighborhood Leadership Program
Rebkha Atnafou joined the UHI team in 2013 as our associate director for community engagement. As of 2017, Ms. Atnafou now serves as director of the Bunting Neighborhood Leadership Program. During her time with the UHI she has been involved in various research projects, including the Global Early Adolescent Study as the Baltimore site research coordinator, serving as co-investigator for the Colorectal Cancer Screening to Reduce Racial Disparities study, and research coordinator for the Family Cancer History project. In addition, she provides youth development training, programming, and research work for the Center for Adolescent Health. Rebkha’s focus is on youth development and sexual health training, systems and capacity building, leadership development, promoting evidence in health education and outreach, and illuminating sociocultural barriers to cancer prevention among urban African Americans. She is a certified national trainer for evidence-based youth sexual health curriculums and has worked with various cities around the country to plan city-wide afterschool systems, integrate youth violence prevention plans in state health departments, and youth sexual health plans in school districts.
Prior to joining UHI Rebkha served for over a decade as the executive director for the After-School Institute. In this role she was charged with providing training, technical assistance, and systems building for afterschool programs throughout Baltimore and around the country. Rebkha has a BA in biology from Binghamton University and MPH from Columbia University.
Kelly Bower, PHD, MSN/MPH, RN
Faculty Appointment: Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing
As an associate director, Dr. Bower, alongside Dr. Purnell, will lead efforts to facilitate and recognize collaborations between communities, universities, healthcare delivery systems, government, and the private sector to build collective capacity for achieving health equity in Baltimore. Dr. Bower’s research and her public health nursing practice focus on the elimination of racial disparities in maternal and child and women’shealth. Using a social justice lens, she aims to deepen understanding of the underlying causes of racial disparities and inform interventions to promote equity and mitigate racial disparities. Her research examines the role of social determinants of health including racism and respectful maternity care. She also explores how interventions such as maternal, infant, and early childhood home visiting programs can be leveraged to address racial disparities. Dr. Bower applies a community-engaged approach to her research that comes from her 18 years of experience practicing as a public health nurse in Baltimore, including 10 years with the Baltimore City Health Department and the B’More for Healthy Babies Initiative. She has received funding from the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Scholars (NIH KL2) program, Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, and Health Resources & Services Administration. She earned her PhD from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where her dissertation focused on the relationship between residential segregation, food store availability, and racial disparities in obesity among women.
Vanya Jones, PhD, MPH
Faculty Appointment: Associate Professor, Department of Health, Behavior, and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
As an associate director, Dr. Jones will lead efforts to mobilize resources in support of promising strategies to achieve substantial gains in the health and well-being of Baltimore residents. In addition to her role with UHI Dr. Jones works at the nexus of research and practice to reduce injuries by applying social and behavioral science theories and research methods to create, implement, and evaluate behavior change programs. Her program of research and practice activities addresses both unintentional and intentional injuries among vulnerable populations of children, adolescents, and older adults. She has specific expertise in older driver research, youth development and violence prevention, and child injury prevention.
Tanjala S. Purnell, PhD, MPH
Faculty Appointment: Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
As an associate director, Dr. Purnell, alongside Dr. Bower, will lead efforts to facilitate and recognize collaborations between communities, universities, healthcare delivery systems, government, and the private sector to build collective capacity for achieving health equity in Baltimore. In addition to her role at UHI she is an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She holds joint faculty appointments in the Johns Hopkins Departments of Surgery, Health Policy and Management, and Health Behavior and Society. She is the director of community and stakeholder engagement for the Hopkins Epidemiology Research Group in Organ Transplantation, the associate director for Education and Training at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, core faculty at the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, and affiliated faculty with the Bloomberg American Health Initiative and the Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research. A native of the Mississippi Delta, Dr. Purnell is an epidemiologist and health services researcher whose work focuses on identifying patient- centered and community-engaged solutions to address health and healthcare disparities for people living with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and hypertension. She has received national and international research honors and has published findings from her work in leading medical and public health journals, including JAMA and Health Affairs. Dr. Purnell is deeply committed to community service, teaching, and mentoring and is the recipient of multiple Teaching Excellence Awards from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Rachel J. Thornton, MD, PhD
Faculty Appointment: Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
As an associate director, Dr. Thornton will lead efforts to promote dialogue, understanding, and trust among practitioners, researchers, educators, scholars, community leaders, advocates, and residents to create pathways to health, well-being, and social justice in Baltimore. She is associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics with a joint appointment in the Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Health, Behavior, and Society. She serves as associate director for Policy for the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity and associate medical director for Pediatric Managed Care in the Office of Johns Hopkins Physicians where she works to advance healthcare system transformation that is responsive to advancing health equity and improving the health of children and families. A practicing primary care pediatrician, she studies the impacts of social and behavioral factors on child health and health equity and the impacts of non-health sector policies on child health and family well-being. Her research has been spotlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is published in leading medical, policy and public health journals.
She is motivated by a fundamental desire to improve children’s health and well-being and advance equity in health and healthcare. She has experience translating research into policy at the local, state, and federal levels, serving as health policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2011-2013. Her research has been funded by multiple government agencies and private foundations. She also served as a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report Shaping Summertime Experiences:Opportunities to Promote Healthy Development and Well-Being for Children and Youth. She received her BA from New York University and her MD and PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (’04) and the Bloomberg School of Public Health (’04) respectively. She also completed Pediatrics residency and fellowship training in general academic pediatrics at Johns Hopkins.
Communications & Marketing Associate
Imani West oversees the management, implementation, and evaluation of all communication efforts for the UHI. She manages the UHI’s website and social media, writes and edits communication content, coordinates the production of print and electronic material, and develops marketing, media, and outreach strategies. With over four years of communications experience, Imani has a background in digital marketing and copy writing. Prior to joining the UHI, Imani was the communication coordinator for the Institute for Integrative Health, a non-profit in downtown Baltimore. She holds a BA in Mass Communication and Political Science from Virginia Wesleyan University.
Natalie Wiggins coordinates all on- and off-campus events and programs and assists in the development of new initiatives that will match community needs with university resources and vice versa. With a background in graphic and web design, Natalie works with our communication and marketing associate to design both print and electronic marketing material to support outreach efforts. Prior to joining our team, Natalie was a graphics designer and a program coordinator at ARIEL, one of the largest Russian-American centers in the DMV tristate area. She received her first B.S. in Government and Business Administration from Belgorod State University, Russia, and her second bachelor’s degree in Web Design from the University of Maryland Global Campus formerly known as University of Maryland University College.