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SLU Awarded $580,000 Grant To Develop Missouri’s First Academic Health Department

ST. LOUIS – United in their quest to address regional public health gaps and to improve the quality of life, Saint Louis University College of Public Health and Social Justice, City of St. Louis Department of Health and Saint Louis County Department of Public Health are partnering for Missouri’s first Academic Health Department. 

Academic Health Department

From left, Pamela Xaverius, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, and Darcy Scharff, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral science and health education, received a $580,000 grant from Missouri Foundation for Health. Submitted photo.

Saint Louis University’s Pamela Xaverius, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, and Darcy Scharff, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral science and health education, have received a $580,000 grant from Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) to develop the required infrastructure for a successful Academic Health Department (AHD).

They have partnered with Spring Schmidt, Saint Louis County Department of Public Health; and Craig Schmid, City of St. Louis Department of Health on this initiative.

Developed in the 1980s to mirror the relationship between teaching hospitals and medical schools, AHDs are “relationships between an academic institution and a governmental public health agency, providing mutual benefits in teaching, research and service, with academia informing the practice of public health, and the governmental public health agency informing the academic program.”

The grant will allow each of the three accredited equal partners to share strengths, while seeking to address gaps such as: improved public health workforce development; expansion of more rigorous, consistent, and culturally expansive in-the-field student learning activities; cross-teaching/instructions; research data and evidence sharing; and joint policy development; as well as enhanced networking opportunities.  

The grant allows Xaverius and Scharff to work in partnership with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and City of St. Louis Department of Health to develop an AHD that addresses shortages in the public health workforce development; and enhances practice-based training, applied research, and policy focused initiatives. The St. Louis AHD will also help align resources to address public health issues, strengthen processes and experiences of public health internships, and facilitate teaching and networking with the community.

The team will also develop a plan to evaluate, grow and sustain the AHD through expansion of existing elements of the partnership.

Statement of Intent

The three partners have issued a joint statement of intent:

"Racial and Health Equity remains our joint priority focus as we attempt to collectively address social and structural determinants of health as root causes of community health. We are further committed even more firmly to improving the local public health system to collectively address community health needs. 

"It is exciting to work with each other collaboratively, in a way that honors the skills and gifts that each partner brings to the table, knowing that we will grow and learn together. Not only will students and professors in academia learn from enhanced exposures to the real-world experiences and expertise of the local health departments, but the health departments will have ready access to academic expertise to improve practices in the field. This is an investment in our ability to leverage and build strong regional institutions that have the capacity to advance the public’s health, reduce or eliminate health disparities, and champion a vision of equity for those we serve."


The Missouri Foundation for Health is a resource for the region, working with communities and nonprofits to generate and accelerate positive changes in health.  As a catalyst for change, the Foundation improves the health of Missourians through a combination of partnership, experience, knowledge, and funding.


The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.

Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.

Story by Diane Chatman, College for Public Health and Social Justice Communications