In addition to producing internationally recognized research, the Columbia University Medical Center has been showing increased attention to upper Manhattan. Rafael Lantigua and Dennis Mitchell were recently appointed as CUMC’s special advisers for community health affairs to identify more ways to unify public health efforts in the local community.
Both doctors said they feel that while CUMC has a flourishing community affairs office, doctors who are familiar with the kinds of health issues prevalent in the area needed to interact more with the Medical Center’s neighbors.
“Dean [Lee] Goldman wanted to make sure that the relationship between the community and the Medical Center was a little bit better defined,” Lantigua said. “It’s about matching opportunities and needs.”
Mitchell, a dentist, led the team that created the DentCare network, mobile dental vehicles that bring oral healthcare to Harlem residents and several local public schools. This network has exponentially increased the number of patients getting dental care.
“We used to see 3,500 patients a year, now we see over 50,000,” Dr. Mitchell said.
Lantigua noted that some of the most pressing public health issues in Harlem include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and asthma.
“We’re looking to think about solutions for problems that are not local,” Lantigua said. “These are national problems.”
They emphasized that to capitalize efforts to improve community health affairs, CUMC is collaborating with the Mailman School of Public Health and Harlem Hospital.
“Mailman is doing studies in the Dominican Republic that relate back to communities here.” Victoria Benitez, senior officer of public affairs, said. “That’s why this role, for both of them is so important. They can walk into a Harlem hospital taking what they’ve learned.”
Mitchell’s work has focused on examining how bacteria in oral diseases are earlier signs of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and HIV.
“People think the mouth isn’t connected to the rest of the body. You go to a special doctor called a dentist,” Mitchell said. “But bacteria in oral diseases unfortunately are earlier signs of other diseases.”
Mitchell’s research withHarlem Hospital under Wafaa El-Sadr, an AIDS specialist at Mailman, became the groundwork that was used to expand this research into sub-Saharan Africa.
“CUMC and Harlem Hospital have put millions of dollars into research and therapeutic work in sub-Saharan Africa,” Mitchell said.