Kennesaw State and WellStar Health System partner for NIH-funded health disparities research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 28, 2019

Supplemental grant to focus on bioethical issues in clinical care and medical research

Kennesaw State University and WellStar Health System will together address the bioethical issues faced by individuals experiencing social and/or economic hardships when trying to manage their healthcare needs. This recent research partnership is made possible through a National Institutes of Health grant.

Evelina Sterling
Evelina Sterling
Evelina Sterling, director of research development and strategic initiatives in KSU’s Office of Research, and Jason Lesandrini, assistant vice president of ethics, advance care planning, and spiritual health at WellStar Health System, are studying this aspect of health disparity through a one-year, $113,000 supplemental grant. 

“Bioethics transcends advance care planning or communicating with doctors, especially among vulnerable and underserved populations who may already experience barriers and challenges such as transportation, money and insurance issues while accessing prescribed care in their communities,” said Sterling, also assistant professor of sociology and the grant’s principal investigator.

Sterling and Lesandrini will integrate a bioethics component into an already existing NIH-funded project Sterling is working on with KSU colleagues and social work professors Vanessa Robinson-Dooley and Carol Collard. The KSU professors are developing a new self-management and support intervention program called “Healthy Together” for low-income African-American men with multiple chronic conditions living in rural and urban areas of Georgia.   

Jason Lesandrini
Jason Lesandrini
As part of the grant, researchers will interview the men and their healthcare providers to explore themes related to bioethical issues they face as patients and as research participants. Then a bioethics module will be developed based on those interviews and added into the “Healthy Together” program. 

A separate training module for clinical and research staff at WellStar Health System will also be included. That is where Lesandrini’s expertise comes into play since he leads WellStar Health System’s ethics program, which provides leadership and resources to promote ethical behavior and decision-making aligned with the mission, vision and values of the health system. Core services include ethics consultation, ethics programming, education and advance planning resources for patients, families and team members.

“A colleague in the ethics field once said, ‘there are no ethics-free zones in healthcare.’ My experience is similar,” said Lesandrini, who serves as co-investigator of the supplement grant. “Values touch everything we do, and it is important for us as a community-based healthcare provider to understand the complex ethics issues faced by one of our most vulnerable and underserved populations.”

Although KSU and WellStar Health System have been involved in a number of research collaborations before, this is the first time the two have received a grant from NIH to partner on a project.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Kennesaw State University in this research endeavor,” said Quincy Byrdsong, executive director of the WellStar Research Institute, the centralized research facility serving WellStar Health System. “Not only will the research have significant impact on the communities we serve, but the collaboration continues to maximize the collective strengths of Kennesaw State University and WellStar Health System in our service to the state of Georgia and beyond.”

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About WellStar Health System

At WellStar, our patients are the center of everything we do. Nationally ranked and locally recognized for our high-quality care, inclusive culture, and exceptional doctors and caregivers, WellStar Health system is one of the largest and most integrated healthcare systems in Georgia. Our state-of-the-art facilities include: 11 hospitals; 300+ medical office locations; cancer centers; rehabilitation centers; hospice facilities; 19 imaging centers; 15 urgent care locations; and 5 health parks. Every day, our team of 24,000+ healthcare professionals provides personalized care for patients at every age and stage of life. 

As a not-for-profit health system, our passion for people extends beyond our system and into the communities we serve. Each year, WellStar thoughtfully reinvests in the creation of healthier communities through prevention and wellness programs and charity care for eligible patients. The WellStar Foundation supports our mission with funding for equipment, services, programs, and more. To learn more about WellStar, visit

—Joëlle Walls

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit