Kathy Ell, DSW
|Title||Ernest P. Larson Professor of Health, Ethnicity and Poverty, Professor of Social Work|
|School||School of Social Work|
University Park Campus
Los Angeles California 90089-0411
|Phone||+1 213 740 8311|
Kathleen Ell has conducted extensive research on health care-seeking behavior, major depression, general psychological distress, quality of life and morbidity, and mortality associated with life-threatening illness and chronic illness. A hallmark of her research and numerous publications has been a focus on low-income and ethnically diverse populations.
Ell's research career began in 1971 in public sector care. In her social work practitioner role, Ell observed that depressed coronary care unit patients were more likely to die and conducted a study that was referenced as one of a few studies supporting the 1996 National Institutes of Health depression trial of 3,000 heart patients. Since 1980, Ell has been a principal investigator of five longitudinal studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health. She is currently co-principal investigator of a Department of Health and Human Services longitudinal study of 1,500 low-income diabetes patients and has two RO1 proposals under review aimed at dissemination, sustainability and integrated uptake of patient-centered safety net care. She has created a community research partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS), the second largest U.S. publicly supported safety net care system. Within DHS, results from her work have facilitated current uptake in integrating medical and behavioral health via a pilot program in which the county's Department of Mental Health co-locates graduate social workers within DHS patient-centered medical home community clinics, and an in-place DHS primary care depression care protocol modeled on her previous studies. Her collective body of work has focused on the improvement of community-based services for patients with abnormal cancer screens, individuals diagnosed with clinically significant depression, which is often concurrent with acute and/or chronic medical illness; socio-cultural adaptations aimed at reducing barriers to optimal care receipt; and patient-centered care preferences and uptake, psychological and medical outcomes, and medical provider needs to advance collaborative care models. All of her work has highlighted the effectiveness of diverse and changing roles and skills of social workers and social work assistants in optimizing medical care. Her emerging health information technology application research is also significantly focused on social work clinician preferences, needs and application in real world practice.
In addition to her senior faculty appointment, Ell serves as the behavioral health research director of the School of Social Work's Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families with principal responsibilities for doctoral student, post-doctorate and faculty mentoring, as well as developing and conducting research on military service and family members. She also holds a research leadership role within the USC Telehealth clinic. Ell is among the directors of the USC Clinical and Translational Science Institute Office of Community Engagement. She has also received NIH-funded minority supplements to provide mentoring and real-world research opportunities for two social work faculty, one psychiatrist, one behavioral scientist and one doctoral student.
She has authored 83 publications, including two books. Ell has long been a strong advocate for increasing social workers' contributions to translational science and randomized clinical trials aimed at significantly advancing evidence-based and interdisciplinary social work practice. To actively promote these agendas, while on leave from the university, she worked at the NIMH and served as the executive director for the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research in Washington, D.C. She currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of the Society of Social Work and Research and the consultant editorial board of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Over the past 16 years, Ell's comparative effectiveness research routinely examines multiple issues via multiple research methods, such as patient randomization and/or comparison across diverse care systems, and qualitative assessments of patients, providers and organizational decision-makers. This approach has helped to advance the understanding of disparities in care access and uptake by identifying socio-culturally driven patient behavior, collaborative medical and mental health provider behavior, and medical organizational priority-driven aims in the context of cost and cost-effectiveness concerns. For example, patient barriers include difficulty in communicating with medical providers and navigating multiple care/provider systems, culturally influenced stigma, treatment preferences and adherence, managing concurrent chronic medical illness (medication, self-care, pain, anxiety), while simultaneously experiencing ongoing and intermittent social and economic stress. Primary and specialty care providers are time pressured when communicating with behavioral health providers. Despite having disproportionately greater need, safety net organizations have fewer resources to support optimal acute and ongoing follow-up behavioral health care – an issue Ell believes is critical, as health care delivery adopts change in patient-provider communication and collaboration across behavioral and medical providers.
For over three decades, her research has been highly inter-disciplinary in its approach and structure. This is exemplified in all her past and current studies and her introduction of social work into the initial development of the Clinical Translational Science Institute at USC. Today, her work continues this research trajectory via an extension of her multi-disciplinary research to include the school of engineering, as she engages in studying rapidly emerging technology-enhanced and telehealth care models with the aim of facilitating patient-centered care access and treatment uptake while reducing care costs, improving patient outcomes and advancing provider uptake. Her work has been nationally recognized by the National Cancer Institute and the Agency for Health Research and Quality via selection of her research as being ready for national uptake.
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