Meet the Scholars (1st Cohort)

of the Community Research Scholar Initiative

Julie Merker, MSUS

Julie MerkerJulie Merker has worked in the Learning and Performance Improvement department at Beech Brook for 8 years. As a learning organization, Beech Brook thrives on data collection and analysis. Julie’s main role is Manager of Operational Systems. In this capacity, she assists in the implementation of Beech Brook’s electronic health record. She utilizes a variety of technologies to measure compliance and operational data to improve agency performance. Julie is also the supervisor of two internal auditors who review individual client records for compliance with Medicaid, Joint Commission, ODJFS, and ODMH requirements. This skill set gives her a unique perspective and an opportunity to influence agency systems and processes to ensure overall compliance and efficiency.

Julie has been a long time volunteer and supporter of local social justice organizations, including The InterReligious Task Force on Central America, serving on their Board of Trustees for five years. Julie spent a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture in Chicago, IL. This experience had a profound impact on her life and encouraged her to pursue graduate education. She earned her Master’s degree in Urban Studies with a concentration on Urban Policy Analysis. Her policy interests lie in health care, human rights, and immigration.

Julie’s research project is titled, “Prevalence of Chronic Illness among Children with Axis I DSM-IV Diagnoses at a Large Mental Health Agency in Cuyahoga County, Ohio”. The prevalence of comorbid chronic disease and mental illness among adults is well documented in the literature. However, there are less data on the children’s population. For this study, health status data will be collected through the intake process of approximately 1000 new clients at a large mental health agency serving children and adolescents. The purpose of this exploratory study is to determine the prevalence of comorbidity of physical and behavioral health issues in children, as has been demonstrated in the literature on adults. It is presumed that results will show correlations between variables such as Body Mass Index and prescription of psychotropic medications. Identifying comorbidity among children is important as this knowledge can inform both policy and practice.

Kimberly Juhas, MA

kjuhasKimberly Juhas has been a member of the Trauma Services team at FrontLine Service for over 6 years.  FrontLine Service serves those who are homeless, mentally ill, in crisis, and traumatized. The Trauma  Department provides in-home mental health and crisis-related services to children and families in Cuyahoga County ho have been affected by violence or traumatic loss.

Kim developed a strong enthusiasm for research while completing her qualitative Master’s thesis for Goddard College’s independent study counseling program. She has since gravitated towards opportunities to help conduct research, and in her current job in the Trauma Department, she works with much of the data needs.  In the past, she recruited clients from the Trauma Department and assisted with data collection for Violence, Sleep, and Child Health, a research project conducted by Case School of Medicine’s Dr. James Spilsbury.

Outside of work, Kim immerses herself in activities that promote health and stress relief, including yoga, meditation, and growing her own food. She has been practicing Reiki for six years, and volunteers her services in the community.

Kim’s research project reflects her desire to promote health through stress reduction.  She is conducting a randomized controlled trial measuring the effects of prerecorded guided imagery on employee perceived stress, compassion fatigue, burnout, and state anxiety.  Guided imagery uses verbal suggestion through descriptive language to help the listener imagine sights, sounds, and sensations to bring about a desired response.  The six guided imagery tracks used in the research project describe peaceful places, and have a desired goal of relaxation and stress relief.

Stress such as compassion fatigue and burnout can negatively affect work performance.  If guided imagery can reduce these types of stress, there is the potential to improve the quality of care for those served by helping professionals.

Patricia Terstenyak, MPH, CH

pterstenyakPatricia Terstenyak is a public health professional and a certified health education specialist.  She serves as the Community Outreach Coordinator at Susan G. Komen Northeast Ohio where she manages the health education and outreach initiatives.  In addition, she oversees outreach volunteers who represent Komen Northeast Ohio at health fairs and speaking engagements.  Komen Northeast Ohio serves 22 counties by funding breast cancer education, outreach, screening, treatment and survivor support programs.

Patricia is a current member of the Minority Health Alliance, Ohio Health Literacy Partnership and Society for Public Health Education.  Within these professional affiliations, Patricia has shares her program management, research and evaluation expertise.  Patricia earned her Master of Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Sciences from Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Her areas of concentration include: health literacy, health disparities and community health.


Breast Health Community Health Workers:  Determinants of Occupational Retention

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted members of the community and serve as a liaison between community and health system. Specifically in breast health and breast cancer awareness, CHWs help minority women obtain necessary breast cancer screenings, decrease missed appointments and increase breast cancer risk factor knowledge.   Many CHW programs face high turnover rates which is an issue in providing reliable outreach services to these underserved populations.

What are the factors influencing retention of breast health Community Health Workers?

This is a descriptive mixed-methods study where study participants include active and inactive breast health community health workers and program managers.  The first phase is qualitative consisting of four focus groups which will inform questions for a broader reach quantitative survey. The second phase is a quantitative survey which would be finalized from the identified themes from the focus groups.  Anticipated findings will help inform selection and training practices for sustainable CHW programs.