Endowment allows chair to focus on research

Dr. Teresa M. Waters

This story shows how increased endowment funds strengthen the University of Kentucky and empower faculty and staff to research and make discoveries that impact people throughout Kentucky and the world. Growing UK's endowment is one of the main priorities for the university's new $2.1 billion comprehensive campaign, Kentucky Can: The 21st Century Campaign.

By Molly Williamson

Since arriving in Lexington, Dr. Teresa M. Waters has been overwhelmed by the support of the greater University of Kentucky community. Previously the chair of Preventive Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Waters recently joined UK as the Charles T. Wethington Jr. Endowed Chair in the Health Sciences and chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy in the College of Public Health. 

“One of the most special things about UK is that people are genuinely excited to be here and to be connected to the university,” Waters said. “It is palpable. People are very proud of the university, love the university and want to support the university.”

The Wethington Endowed Chair honors former UK President Charles T. Wethington Jr., who – along with his wife, Judy Wethington – continues to actively support UK faculty, students and programs. Waters is the second person to hold the position, which carries a stipend that allows her to purchase additional materials, hire graduate students and fund a program manager. 

“That support is absolutely critical, but it is not always available,” Waters said. “It takes senior faculty to the next level, providing the continuity and flexibility to keep our research going.”

A health economics researcher, Waters is studying the effectiveness of value-based payment systems, which use financial incentives – bonuses or penalties – to improve patient care and outcomes. Waters is collaborating with Joshua Lambert, a UK assistant professor of collaborative statistics, to build predictive models of social determinants of health based on claims data.  

Social determinants of health, including education, income, access to transportation and food insecurity, play a critical role in supporting population health improvements but are typically not available to providers and insurers. With this information, providers can better tailor care to their patients’ needs and insurers can adjust their value-based payment strategies so they do not unfairly penalize providers who serve disadvantaged populations.   

Using Medicare’s Current Beneficiary Survey, which contains information on social determinants of health as well as claims data, Waters and Lambert, along with three graduate students, plan to build predictive models that can later be used when only the claims data is available. 

Her research is especially important for small Kentucky hospitals. Predictive models for social determinants of health can help rural hospitals efficiently target patient support services and potential prevent them from being over-penalized. Medicare currently uses a value-based payment system that penalizes hospitals with higher than expected readmission rates. Hospitals can receive penalties up to 3 percent of their total Medicare revenues. Other payers, including Medicaid, are considering similar programs.

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