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NMSU Crimson Research helps organizations improve health services, community outreach

At New Mexico State University’s College of Health and Social Services is a research center that may be in the running for one of the university’s best kept secrets.


Woman talking to group
Rosa Gaytan, a Crimson Research promotora, or community health educator, talks to community members at Presbyterian Medical Services in Deming as part of the Empowering Promotoras to be Tobacco Control Specialists project by Crimson Research, housed in the College of Health and Social Sciences at New Mexico State University. The project trains promotoras to help reduce tobacco use among adults in Dona Ana, Otero and Luna counties. (Courtesy photo)

Because of several projects Crimson Research has taken on over the past year, that secret is no longer a well-kept one. In fact, the center participated in grant writing and will receive a subcontract to perform a program evaluation that is part of a $2.8 million federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant awarded to Doña Ana County. The grant will help the county implement a pilot program that will improve mental health care services and potentially keep mentally ill persons out of jail.

“It will put in place a system of identifying, monitoring and assisting people with severe mental illness. It will hopefully help them avoid incarceration and institutionalization, and lead to a path of recovery,” said Joe Tomaka, director of Crimson Research and Stan Fulton Endowed Chair in Public Health Research.

The SAMHSA grant to Doña Ana County will be awarded over four years at $700,000 a year, and will partner Doña Ana County, La Clinica De Familia, NMSU and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Crimson Research began in 2013 as the Survey Research and Program Evaluation Center. It was renamed Crimson Research last year. Tomaka said that the center was designed to focus on polling and telephone surveys, but since his arrival at NMSU, has expanded into program evaluation, program implementation, research design and survey construction.

The center is funded mostly by grant money, and because of increased efforts to earn more grant funding, the center has gone from one full-time employee to 17 employees, some full-time and some part-time. Current staff includes researchers, evaluators, program coordinators, data collectors, administrative and accounting support staff, and promotores, or community health educators.

“We’d like to pursue multi-year national grants to hire permanent, full-time staff,” said Michele Banner, associate director of Crimson Research. “In addition to program implementation, program evaluation and survey design, we may also resume experimental research, both basic and applied, which is aligned with both my and Joe’s background as social psychologists.”

Last year, the center was awarded a grant from the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation to fund a project promoting smoking cessation strategies in communities located in Doña Ana, Otero and Luna counties. The project trains promotores to be tobacco control specialists in their own neighborhoods to help adult smokers quit. According to the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation, New Mexico has a smoking rate of 16.4 percent of the population, compared to 15.1 percent nationally. Hispanics in New Mexico also smoke at a higher rate than Hispanics nationally.

The Paso Del Norte Health Foundation awarded another grant to Crimson Research to evaluate the foundation’s Ignite initiative, which provides after school activities for youths ages 7 to 18 who don’t have a trusted adult in their lives and do not engage in extracurricular activities. Crimson Research will evaluate Ignite programs in Hatch, Horizon City, Fabens, Tornillo and Deming, and five cites in Juárez, for the presence of positive developmental settings and to learn more about those disconnected youths.

Crimson Research also is working on a mental health project, the Think.Change initiative, in Otero County. Think.Change connects teachers, first responders, healthy care providers, and people working in the judiciary and detention center to mental health training courses to help reduce the stigma of mental illness. Think.Change is another initiative funded by a grant from the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation.

And Crimson Research is involved with evaluating Doña Ana County’s DWI compliance, monitoring and prevention programs. The compliance monitoring program aims to help reduce recidivism, said Christine Spurny, a research associate for Crimson Research.

Tomaka hopes more public- and private-sector organizations reach out to Crimson Research, which can provide assistance in program implementation, program evaluation, quantitative and qualitative research, and survey design.

For more information, visit https://health.nmsu.edu/crimson-research.