Birmingham Benefits from Research Co-op Program with Summa

Four master’s and doctoral students are working on research projects with leading local organizations via the Ohio Means Internships & Co-ops Program.  Lauren Birmingham, MA ’10, BBA ’09, BA ‘09, is one of those students, working with Summa Health System to examine the incidence of emergency department (ED) visits to identify frequent users and learn how to best serve them.

“Medicaid patients who are really sick with chronic conditions are those most likely to be frequent ED users,” explains Birmingham.  “For example, a patient with diabetes that is poorly controlled could come to the ED 50 times per year,” she observes.  Under some Medicaid plans, both ED and office visits cost the same, at $3.  “With the expansion of Medicaid, an anticipated concern is overcrowding in the ED.  How do we provide improved care for these patients and help them to better manage their diseases, while ensuring ED availability for the most urgent demands?” she asks.
The intertwined issues of hospital administration, public health and economics appeal to Birmingham, a healthcare economist who last year enrolled in the college’s doctoral program to burnish her credentials in health policy and management.  One of her chief research interests is the effect of health insurance incentives on consumer consumption behavior and health outcomes.  “Reducing reliance on the ED for primary care is one of the ways to bend the cost curve, but some studies show that once insured, people use the ED more,” she observes.
The doctoral student is working with Jennifer Frey, PhD, research program director; Kirk Stiffler, MD, MPH, research director; and Scott Wilber, MD, MPH, chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Summa Akron City Hospital.  Wilber is also a member of the College of Public Health External Advisory Committee.
Birmingham and the three other Kent State co-op researchers are employed by the university, with student support funded equally by the program and the local partner organization.  The students work 20 hours weekly at the partner’s facilities, while continuing their academic programs.  Each co-op arrangement is expected to be at least one year in duration.  Birmingham has been working in Summa’s strategic planning department for about two years and continues there part-time, while engaged in the ED co-op research and her doctoral studies.
Other local organizations presently involved in the co-op program are GOJO Industries, Inc., and Akron General Health System.  Organizations interested in utilizing a co-op student may contact the college’s Director of Advancement, Margot McGimpsey, at (330) 672-6270.
Funded in part by a grant from the Ohio Board of Regents, the state is investing $11 million over two years in co-ops and internships, with matching dollars directed to key industry sectors and functions, including biohealth and research and development.  Some 25 education partners, including Kent State, are creating new or expanded programs to help build skills in demand by Ohio businesses and to better position students for jobs in Ohio after graduation, according to the Board of Regents.
The grants are part of a workforce development strategy to align Ohio’s higher education curriculum with skills in demand from Ohio’s businesses.  The grants will provide Ohio employers with opportunities to benefit from the talents of Ohio’s graduate students, while putting students on track for successful careers in Ohio.  Funding provided through the Ohio Means Internships & Co-op Program comes from Ohio-based casino license fees.