Public Health Hero: Corinne Peek-Asa

Corinne Peek-Asa, PhD, MPH, University of Iowa, College of Public Health

Corinne Peek-Asa is leaving little remnants of her research all over town, inconspicuously. Her research warrants much greater acknowledgment for it is these tested ‘interventions' in place that work to protect us from violence, crime and injury. "Investing in research is the learning step we need to move towards effective prevention. We all know that continuing to treat poor health is expensive. Investing in public health is the best investment we can make in optimal health and we won't do it right if we don't do the research."

The research Corinne Peek-Asa, PhD, MPH, is conducting gives new meaning to many strategies reflective of the current times: the need for unprecedented collaboration and cooperation, combining resources, identifying cost-efficient strategies, and attempting new and unique ways to solve problems.

"My favorite thing to do in the field is to use (foundational) research to develop ‘interventions' to causing injury or harm, and then test them." And not only is she doing just that, but she's working with the local police to recognize this information as well.

Although most people disregard violence, in particular workplace violence, as a criminal issue and not a health issue, Peek-Asa has used research to illustrate this in fact is a critical health issue, and then to identify strategies to best prevent violence, and in turn, best prevent injury to health. "Homicide is the second leading cause of death in the workplace. We depend on the safety in the workplace to keep us free from any harm. Yet when you look at the frequency of occurrences in retail and service establishments, customers are just as likely to get injured as workers if they are in a violent setting."

After identifying workplace violence as such a big problem, and that the majority of such events were occurring in the small retail and services businesses, Peek-Asa and her colleagues worked with the California government and law enforcement to use evidence from private industry studies to identify 6 key core elements of low-cost, business-friendly prevention programs. These elements, including training employees to deal with difficult customers, implementing cash control policies (such as the sign indicating the cashier has limited access to money), as well as the height marker indicated on the doorway to provide a better gauge of height in providing details to police, were tested in research studies and found that by implementing these 6 strategies, it led to a 20% reduction in robbery-related assault and a 40% reduction in robberies.

"Once our research indicates an intervention is effective, it is important to implement as quickly as possible. In attempting to do so with these businesses, we soon discovered that in the absence of this information, small business were implementing the lease effective strategies, at the highest rates of costs. So without research, these business owners were following the least effective means of preventing harm and keeping safe."

Law enforcement seemingly the most appropriate fit to house this information, Peek-Asa and her colleagues are working with policy agencies across the country to translate this into their regular operations. As often seen in research, the knowledge gained from these studies impacted community issues not exclusive to health. "Police agencies have expressed interest and cooperation, especially as they've seen these strategies improve their knowledge of and relationship with the community as well. For example, after working with the owner of a local convenience store suffering serious revenue loss from robberies and shoplifting, he attributed the problem to the high gang activity in the area. This being new information for the police, they were able to act and reduce gang and drug-related activity."

It's important to understand where the critical components of this information are derived from: research. The goal of public health is to prevent adverse health outcomes. We can't do that without understanding how health outcomes operate in populations and understanding how our interventions work."

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America’s economic destiny lies in innovation, technology, science and research.
The Honorable John E. Porter