UCLA CHPR director named to new national commission to transform public health data systems

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation named Ninez Ponce to its newly established National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems
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UCLA CHPR Communications Team

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has named Ninez A. Ponce, PhD, MPH, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (CHPR) and professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, to its newly established National Commission to Transform Public Health Data Systems.

The group, which consists of health care, community advocacy, government, business, public health experts, is tasked with identifying novel ways in which data are collected, shared, and used, as well as opportunities for collaboration among both public- and private-sector organizations.

An expert on immigrant and global health, survey-based research, social determinants of health, and health disparities, Ponce is the principal investigator of the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation's largest state health survey, which has been recognized as a national model for data collection on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), and immigrant health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to expose the striking disparities that exist within our healthcare system, with issues such as differential access to testing, vaccinations and treatment, and outside of the system with issues such as getting resources related to food and housing support,” said Ponce. “Modernizing or reimagining how our public health data infrastructure works is absolutely vital in improving health equity, and I’m grateful to be able to join a team that tackles this issue head-on.”

UCLA CHPR has been conducting extensive work on COVID-19 data tracking since the onset of the pandemic. Throughout 2020, the center created several tools to track COVID-19 and various risk factors such as chronic diseases and underlying conditions, as well as looking at factors such as insurance status, food insecurity, and more by California county.

The aim was to shed light on factors related to case and mortality rates and for use by decisionmakers on identifying and making health and economic support policies across California communities. In addition, a series of COVID-19 questions on topics such as treatment and vaccine acceptability, personal and financial impacts of the pandemic, and more across a range of demographic and socioeconomic factors was added to the 2020 CHIS and, for the first time in history, preliminary estimates were released more than a year before release.

Data disaggregation, an objective on the commission’s list, has been a large focus of the UCLA CHPR data team, including the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Data Policy Lab, housed under the center. Bringing hidden data to light answers questions of who, specifically, is being impacted by the pandemic, what resources are needed, and where to deliver the support.

The nation’s largest philanthropy focused solely on health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a history of supporting UCLA CHPR data projects and research, most recently the NHPI Data Policy Lab; the National Network of Health Surveys’ Addressing Health Equity through Data Disaggregation workshop series, which is providing technical assistance workshops to increase population representation in health data sources; and a study on how California counties responded to COVID-19 under the Whole Person Care (WPC) Medicaid Pilot Program.

In addition to the previously mentioned objectives, the commission will take on a multi-pronged approach to explore issues and opportunities for new data sources and measures, data collection on at-risk communities, communicating data to the public, community participation in informing how data systems are formed, and the ability for data to be shared across various systems.

RWJF has challenged the commission to identify improvements in data systems that will better address social determinants and structural factors that result in equitable health outcomes and make recommendations to the nation. The commission, which expects to release recommendations in fall 2021, includes some of the nation’s leading experts from organizations such as the National Collaborative on Health Equity; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Google; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).