Faculty in epidemiology and public health are joining forces with Griffin Hospital in Derby to create an innovative program to improve health in Connecticut’s Naugatuck River Valley region northwest of New Haven. The hospital will house a new prevention research center focusing on cardiovascular disease, the area’s leading cause of death, with programs in smoking cessation, obesity management and cardiac screening. The center will design future interventions based on health surveys in six Naugatuck Valley towns and discussions with community representatives. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided $2.9 million for the efforts and follow-up studies to determine which interventions should be maintained.

“It is a major philosophical shift in public health—the notion that experts can’t simply go into a community and tell people what they need,” says David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H. ’93, director of preventive medicine at the hospital and assistant clinical professor of public health and medicine. “It just doesn’t work. You need community buy-in. The best way to get it is to ask people what they want.”

Dr. Katz will serve as director of the center, which will be staffed at Griffin Hospital. Physicians from the hospital will collaborate on the project with Yale faculty and students. A community advisory committee will work with center staff, faculty, community leaders and citizens to identify health needs and recommend initiatives. Each project will have a community action team to target public health priorities. “Whatever the community asks us to do over the next five years, we will find someone who has that expertise,” says Dr. Katz. “This new center,” adds Michael H. Merson, M.D., dean of public health, “has great potential for improving the health of the population living in the lower Naugatuck Valley.”