In March 2020, the University of North Texas Health Science Center partnered with Fort Worth to create one of the city’s earliest COVID-19 testing sites for first responders.

“We’d always historically had a great working relationship,” David Mansdoerfer, special assistant to the president at the Health Science Center, told the City Council on Tuesday. “But that was a really good project (where) we could come together in a time of need.”

Two years later, the city and the academic institution have formalized their collaboration; the organizations entered into an agreement in early March to support and streamline public health efforts in Fort Worth. Mansdoerfer presented the partnership to the council during Tuesday’s work session. 

“When you think about public health, you think about your local government, you think about academic health science centers and you think about hospital systems,” he said. “Our goal was to build a collaborative relationship that expanded on the work that was already happening between both of our organizations.”

The purpose of the partnership is, ultimately, to improve the health of Fort Worth residents. The means are manifold: Increase both organizations’ competitiveness for federal grants, concretize health research into programs or policies and address health disparities in the city. 

Both organizations will actively seek partnerships and grants for public health projects. The joint endeavor should make the applications for federal funding more competitive, Mansdoerfer said.

For example, in September 2021, the Health Science Center received a $50 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to address health disparities. Before the Health Science Center applied, the city provided a partnership letter to help the institution “be competitive in that space,” he said. 

“You tend to be stronger the more partners you bring to the table,” Mansdoerfer said. 

The partnership also will leverage the city’s public health data to make targeted decisions about health needs. Mansdoerfer referenced CPR education and NARCAN access as potential projects to help address heart disease and opioid overdose. 

The Health Science Center also will be able to help the city “curate” existing datasets to answer relevant health questions, Noah Drew, associate vice president of special projects at the Health Science Center, told the Fort Worth Report. 

Harnessing the expertise of the Health Science Center demonstrates that the city is “ready to put energy and action” into addressing health disparities and creating space to “better understand health concerns of residents,” Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington told the council. 

The partnership does not exclude other health bodies like Tarrant County Public Health, she said. 

City leaders will meet at the Health Science Center on April 12 to discuss next steps. 

“Obviously (COVID-19) brought out a lot of deficiencies from the city, and where we need to be better partners,” Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker told the council. “The city of Fort Worth needs to have a set of priorities, and we need to be better informed with the work at the Health Science Center.”

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Alexis AllisonHealth Reporter

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....

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