Michael Donovan head shot in gray suit, blue shirt and tie, and flag background.
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Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) is making an impact in Pennsylvania’s governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic through an increased presence in state-level activities.

Michael Donovan, associate director of SSRI’s Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative and the director of policy & outreach at the Administrative Data Accelerator, was recently invited to serve on the COVID-19 Health Equity Response Team, led by the Office of Health Equity of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

According to Donovan, the response team was formally set up in late April and features representation across government, including from the offices of Governor Tom Wolf and Lt. Governor John Fetterman, and the Departments of Health, Human Services, Aging, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Community and Economic Development, Corrections, Labor and Industry, and more. Calibri"> Additionally, other stakeholders and subject matter experts, including academic, health system, and advocacy representatives, have been included in the effort.

The response team has met weekly to focus on six core strategies that include clinical care considerations for vulnerable populations at risk for COVID-19, predictive modeling, strategic communications, the coordination of strategic partnerships, mass fatality management, and the economic stability and revitalization of the commonwealth. However, much more work will take place behind the scenes, with the help of numerous Penn State researchers.

Out of the larger COVID-19 Health Equity Response Team, task force subgroups were established to focus directly on the many nuanced challenges affecting particular vulnerable or marginalized populations. Donovan was originally asked to participate in 10 different task forces, and he has since invited subject matter experts from around the University to support and expand Penn State’s involvement.

“The main goal of each task force is to develop ideas and strategies, both in the short and long term, that can help lessen the burden on a particular vulnerable or marginalized population from a health equity standpoint,” Donovan said. “Thankfully, a number of subject matter experts from the Penn State faculty have offered their time and expertise to expand and enhance the Penn State presence in this important endeavor.”

Since beginning their work, the individual task forces have consolidated recommendations for ways to improve outcomes for the populations under their charge, and these recommendations will soon go to Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, and the Office of the Lt. Governor, for consideration and implementation.

In addition to Donovan, each participating faculty member and their respective task force is listed below:

  • Selena Ortiz, assistant professor of health policy and administration and demography - Individuals Who Experience Short-Term or Persistent Housing Insecurity or Live in Congregate Housing Wendy Coduti, associate professor of education - Pennsylvanians with Disabilities
  • Derek Kreager, liberal arts professor of sociology and criminology and director of the Criminal Justice Research Center, and Gary Zajac, managing director of the Criminal Justice Research Center - Incarcerated/Returned Residents
  • Marty Sliwinski, director of the Center for Healthy Aging and professor of human development and family studies - Pennsylvanians Over Age 65
  • Rina Eiden, professor of psychology and co-funded faculty member of the Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse - Pregnant Women and Parents of Extremely Young or Multiple Children
  • Raeven Chandler, assistant research professor and director of the Pennsylvania Population Network - Rural Pennsylvanians
  • Ericka Weathers, assistant professor of education - Racial and Ethnic Minorities
  • Maithreyi Gopalan, assistant professor of education - Economically Challenged Individuals, Low-Wage Essential Employees, and the Un- and Underinsured
  • Jocelyn Anderson, assistant professor of nursing - Survivors of Interpersonal Violence