RI State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW) with Samantha Rosenthal and Samantha Borden (February, 2023)

The State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW) was established in Rhode Island in 2006, and since then, the SEOW has played an important role in terms of informing behavioral health programming and prevention efforts throughout the state. Through collaborative data collection, synthesis, analysis, and dissemination efforts, the SEOW aims to make behavioral health data easy to understand and accessible to all throughout RI. In this interview, Samantha Rosenthal—SEOW lead epidemiologist—and Samantha Borden—SEOW CO-Chair—provide an overview of the SEOW, discuss the goals, strategies, and impact of the SEOW, and share a bit about how the RI substance use prevention community can become involved in supporting the work of the SEOW.

Could you start by introducing yourselves and telling us a bit about what the SEOW is and your roles within the program?

(Samantha Rosenthal) My name is Samantha Rosenthal and I am the lead epidemiologist of the Rhode Island State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW). I am a full time Associate Professor in Health Science at Johnson & Wales University, Director of the Center for Student Research and Interdisciplinary Collaboration, and Adjunct Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Brown School of Public Health. I have been a part of the SEOW since 2008.

(Samantha Borden) My name is Samantha Borden and I am a co-chair of the RI SEOW. I am a Chief Health Program Evaluator at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals (BHDDH), and have been part of the SEOW since 2019.

The SEOW is a great collaborative workgroup with representation from different state agencies, institutions of higher education, and community-based organizations. The group collaborates to collect, synthesize, and analyze national, state, and local data to inform behavioral health prevention and programming. The goal is to make behavioral health data easy to understand and accessible to the average person, and to disseminate the information to all of the key players in behavioral health in the state.

How was the SEOW established and who is involved in this workgroup? How are the SEOW’s organizational partners involved in the work of the SEOW?

The SEOW is currently administered by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals (BHDDH), the single state authority for substance abuse prevention and treatment and the state mental health authority. In 2006, the SEOW was established as part of the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant (SPF SIG), within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). In 2008, the SEOW was transferred from EOHHS to BHDDH. SEOW work has been supported since by various Strategic Prevention Framework grants procured by BHDDH, as well as volunteer membership from key stakeholders.

The SEOW meets bi-monthly and has representation from BHDDH, RI Department of Health, RI Department of Children, Youth & Families, RI Department of Transportation, Johnson & Wales University, Brown University School of Public Health, and the University of Rhode Island. The SEOW also regularly engages community-based organizations and RI Regional Coalitions in the work.

What are some of the short- and long-term goals of the SEOW?

The mission of the SEOW is to institutionalize state and community level data-driven planning and decision making pertaining to substance use, abuse, risk and protective factors, consequences, and mental health across the State of Rhode Island.

The short- and long-term goals of the SEOW include the following:

  • Develop a set of key indicators, micro level to macro level, to describe the magnitude and distribution of substance use, abuse, relevant multilevel risk and protective factors, consequences, and mental health for people of all ages across the State of Rhode Island.
  • Identify, collect, manage, analyze, and interpret data on the prevalence of substance use, abuse, relevant multilevel risk and protective factors, consequences, and mental health at multiple ecological levels.
  • Based on these data, develop, and communicate state-level and community-level epidemiologic profiles for strategic planning, promotion, prevention, treatment, recovery, and policy implications for Rhode Island’s behavioral healthcare system.
  • Disseminate, inform, and recommend priorities for the Governor’s Council on Behavioral Health and the State of Rhode Island based on the community and state-level epidemiological profiles.
  • Maintain, expand, and identify gaps in the systematic, ongoing monitoring systems of the prevalence of substance use, abuse, relevant multilevel risk and protective factors, consequences, and mental health.
  • Enhance and encourage inter-agency and inter-organization collaboration, particularly individual data linkage, for data-driven planning for the behavioral healthcare system in the state of Rhode Island.
  • Engage and leverage the capacity of the academic community in data-driven products to aid in planning for the behavioral healthcare system in the state of Rhode Island.

What is the SEOW’s role in terms of substance use prevention in RI? Does the SEOW currently have any prevention-specific goals or projects?

Currently, there are a few SEOW goals which directly pertain to substance use prevention in RI. For instance, one of the SEOW’s current goals is to regularly disseminate information on how the state performs relative to the nation in terms of substance use, mental health, and risk/protective factors. Another SEOW goal is to regularly disseminate information on how regions within the state perform relative to the state average and to other regions in terms of these factors. Additionally, the SEOW uses a health equity lens to identify sub-populations disproportionately affected by behavioral health problems so that this information can be incorporated into targeted prevention programming at the state and regional levels.

How are new data collection and analysis efforts identified by the SEOW and how are decisions made around which efforts the SEOW will lead?

The SEOW has a strong working relationship with state agencies who have access to various surveillance systems and datasets. We regularly synthesize and analyze the data to identify priority areas. In addition to this evidence-based approach, we collaborate with leaders and stakeholders across the state to ensure we are addressing major issues being identified on the ground. Efforts are generally initiated based on an identified need and consensus from the Workgroup membership.

Can you tell us about some of the data products that the SEOW has been involved in creating, and/or those that are currently underway?

The SEOW regularly creates data briefs on specific high priority topic areas, generates biannual state and regional level profiles, and publishes important findings in peer-reviewed journals. A full list of SEOW products can be found here.

Some recent data briefs include:

  • Adversity and Mental Health of Sexual and Gender Minorities in Rhode Island,
  • Driving Under the Influence in Rhode Island, and
  • Underage Drinking in Rhode Island.

Some recent peer-reviewed publications include:

  • Exposure to Alcohol Marketing and Alcohol-Related Consequences in Young Adults,
  • Eliminating Disparities in Young Adult Tobacco Use: The Need for Integrated Behavioral Healthcare, and
  • Breaking Down Barriers: Young Adult Interest and Use of Telehealth for Behavioral Health Services.

How are data products generated by SEOW efforts disseminated, and what are some of the ways this data is used within the state?

The SEOW does not directly collect data, but rather, collaborates with data collection entities across the state to provide guidance, support the development of products, and explore novel data linkages. Data and data products are posted on the SEOW website, presented to the Governor’s Council on Behavioral Health, and disseminated through presentations and collaborations with other workgroups and community-based organizations across the state. Findings are used to identify priority prevention needs, inform grant applications to address those priority needs, and to help service providers target their care and programming to those most in need.

Could you tell us a bit about what the SEOW’s impact has been thus far?

The SEOW work has helped to identify disparities in behavioral health in RI, and in particular, a disproportionate burden on the LGBTQ+ community in schools, among young adults, and within the general adult population. This evidence informs the development of programming targeted specifically at supporting this disproportionately affected population. The SEOW work has also identified young adults as a high-risk age group, and this provided an evidential basis for the need for the Rhode Island Young Adult Survey, which was implemented in 2020. Recently, SEOW work has also helped the State understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health and substance use trends of youth and young adults in the state, as well as the greater interest in and need for telehealth services.

How can folks stay informed about and/or get involved in the SEOW’s important work? Are there any ways that the RI substance use prevention community can help to support the SEOW?

People can stay informed about the SEOW’s work by regularly visiting our website (https://seow.ri.gov/), contacting us with specific inquiries, and utilizing our available work product findings to inform decision-making and priorities in programming.

In terms of supporting the SEOW, we would like to invite substance use prevention providers to join the Workgroup, attend our meetings, use our products to inform their work, and communicate any novel concerns or priorities to the group in real-time. This ongoing collaboration is essential to supporting the behavioral health needs of the Rhode Island community.

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