Community Engagement – Our Team

The Community Engagement Team strives to foster long-term meaningful relationships with partner organizations in San Diego and Imperial Counties. Our team collaborates with various types of partner organizations. Three of our current partnerships have been established with two Federally Qualified Health Centers—Innercare, formerly Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo, Inc., in Imperial County and Family Health Centers of San Diego in San Diego County, and the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency.


Community Engagement Team

Tracy Finlayson, PhD

Co-Leader, Community Engagement Team

Dr. Tracy Finlayson is a Professor in Health Management and Policy in the SDSU’s School of Public Health and a Co-Investigator at the Institute for Behavioral and Community Health. She is an interdisciplinary health services researcher with training in sociology and social psychology, and mixed methods expertise. Her main research areas are oral health disparities, social determinants of health, access to care for vulnerable populations, health policy, and community-based participatory research (CBPR). Current research projects include collaborations with Innercare, formerly Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo, Inc., and the County of San Diego. She also is the Co-Leader of the Community Engagement Team at the SDSU HealthLINK Center.

See Dr. Finlayson’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Guadalupe X. “Suchi” Ayala, PhD, MPH

Co-Director, SDSU HealthLINK Center
Co-Leader, Community Engagement Team
Co-Leader, Intervention Methods Group

Dr. Guadalupe X. “Suchi” Ayala is a Professor in the School of Public Health at SDSU, Director of the Institute for Behavioral and Community Health, Director of the SDSU HealthLINK endowment, and Co-Director of the SDSU HealthLINK Center. Her combination of masters’ degrees in experimental psychology and health promotion and doctoral degree in clinical health psychology reflect her interest in identifying effective solutions for reducing health disparities. Dr. Ayala’s research focuses on the development and adaptation of family and system-based interventions to prevent and control obesity, diabetes and asthma among Latinos and other underserved populations. She co-leads the Administrative and Community Engagement Teams and coordinates transdisciplinary intervention efforts under the Research Infrastructure Team of the SDSU HealthLINK Center.

See Dr. Ayala’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Sara Gombatto, PT, PhD

Co-Leader, Research Project: GOALS/Metas
Co-Investigator, Community Engagement Team

Dr. Sara Gombatto is an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy in the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at SDSU. Her research is focused on investigating the mechanisms underlying musculoskeletal pain with the goal of developing more targeted interventions for treatment and prevention. As a licensed physical therapist, she has 20 years of experience treating patients with musculoskeletal pain. At the SDSU HealthLINK Center, she co-leads the Research Project: Goal Oriented Activity for Latinos with Spine Pain (GOALS/Metas) to study the efficacy of a culturally adapted tele-rehabilitation program for Latinos with chronic low back and neck pain. She also is a Co-Investigator with the Community Engagement Team.

See Dr. Gombatto’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Robert Vargas-Belcher, MSW, MPH

Health Equity Research Associate, Community Engagement Team

Mr. Robert Vargas-Belcher is the Health Equity Research Associate within the Community Engagement Team at the SDSU HealthLINK Center. He supports the partnership with San Diego Health and Human Services (HHSA). Facilitating collaborations on research to help promote healthy outcomes in all communities within San Diego County. As the Health Equity Research Associate he also supports the development of new partnerships within the broader community.

He obtained a Master of Social Work from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Health from SDSU. He spent the last 15 years focusing on improving and developing treatment protocols for treating tobacco and nicotine dependance within disproportionately affected communities. He is currently a Council Member with the Council for Tobacco Treatment Training Programs (CTTTP) – an accrediting organization.

See Mr. Vargas-Belcher’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Karla Armenta, MPH

Coordinator, Intervention Methods Group and Community Engagement Team

Ms. Karla Armenta is the Coordinator of the Intervention Methods Group and Community Engagement Team at the SDSU HealthLINK Center. She earned a bachelor’s degree in public health promotion from Purdue University and a Master of Public Health from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She facilitates new project development for academic-community partnerships, manages community-engaged research and practice activities, and assists in the development, translation, and adaptation of evidence-based health interventions.

See Ms. Armenta’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHCSD) Team

Photo of Dr. Christian B. Ramers

Christian Ramers, MD, MPH, AAHIVS

Medical Director, Laura Rodriguez Research Institute, FHCSD
Adjunct Assistant Professor, SDSU School of Public Health

Dr. Christian Ramers is the Chief of Population Health and Director of Graduate Medical Education at FHCSD, a large Federally Qualified Health Center system serving nearly 200,000 medically underserved individuals throughout San Diego County. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases, and Addiction Medicine, and is particularly interested in HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), and service of medically underserved, immigrant, and refugee populations. He co-chairs the California Chapter of the American Academy of HIV Medicine and has advocated for HIV/HCV care at the state legislative level. He has served as a consultant for Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-sponsored HIV/HBV/HCV educational projects in Asia and Africa. Since 2018, he has served as the Senior Clinical Advisor for the Clinton Health Access Initiative’s Global Hepatitis Program, working to eliminate HBV and HCV in seven partner countries in Asia and Africa.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Ramers has taken on a leadership role in policy, laboratory, public health, research, and clinical response. He is a core member of FHCSD’s COVID-19 Response team, delivering biweekly updates to >200 clinicians and staff. At the regional level, he serves on the county laboratory testing and equity task forces and is a site Principal Investigator for the COVID-19 Prevention Network vaccine research group. He is a member of the national IDSA-CDC clinical call escalation volunteer group. Internationally, he facilitates a Spanish-language COVID-19 virtual community of practice for Latin America, and has presented at an international World Health Organization (WHO) AFRO region webinar on SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

See Dr. Ramer’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Photo of Ms. Maureen Khasira_FHCSDMaureen Khasira, MPH

Research Compliance Manager, Laura Rodriguez Research Institute, FHCSD
Clinical Research Coordinator for FHCSD

Ms. Maureen Khasira is a Research Coordinator with FHCSD and supports different research studies within the Population Health Department and Laura Rodriguez Research Institute. She is part of the SDSU HealthLINK Center’s Research Project: Goal Oriented Activity for Latinos with Spine Pain (GOALS/Metas), acting as a liaison between the project and the IT department for data needs.

 

 

See Ms. Khasira’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Sydney Lewis

Population Health Study Coordinator, Laura Rodriguez Research Institute, FHCSD
Administrative Coordinator for FHCSD

Sydney Lewis is a Population Health Study Coordinator at Family Health Center’s Laura Rodriguez Research Institute. In her role, Sydney enjoys working on a variety of projects with topics including Hepatitis C virus, cancer prevention, reentry support services, reproductive health, and COVID-19.

At Family Health Centers of San Diego, Sydney previously worked as a Health Educator at the Syringe Service Program and a Business Analyst in Substance Use Disorder Services. Sydney is most passionate about opportunities that improve access to healthcare services for underserved communities and efforts that make these spaces more inclusive and supportive for all individuals. Sydney is especially interested in topics related to harm reduction and stigma.


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Innercare Team

Johnathan Slone, MD, MBA, MPH

Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Innercare
Subcontract Principal Investigator for Innercare

Dr. Johnathan A. Slone is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Innercare and the President and Medical Director for Community Care Independent Physician Association. His role entails managing quality improvement, inpatient and outpatient utilization review and management, and referral processes for patients served throughout Imperial County. Dr. Slone has a wide range of experiences including military medicine, general surgery, and business in new product development. He has a background in providing inpatient and outpatient medical care, oversight for Federally Qualified Health Centers, and a broad background in public health, with an emphasis on epidemiology and biostatistics. Dr. Slone has successfully served as Co-PI and collaborated with other researchers to produce several peer-reviewed publications. These research projects focused on the treatment of obesity. In addition, Dr. Slone has collaborated on and led several video presentations, poster presentations, and presented conferences and seminars on the treatment of obesity.


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Sara Sanders

Chief Development Officer, Innercare
Administration for Innercare

Ms. Sara Sanders joined Innercare in January 2016 and is currently the Chief Development Officer for the organization.  Prior to that, Ms. Sanders served as the Executive Director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Imperial Valley for nine years.  She graduated from the University of Virginia in 1999 with a degree in history and has 16 years of experience working in public administration/non-profit management and 12 years of experience working in fund development.  Ms. Sanders provides administrative support on the activities occurring between Innercare and the SDSU HealthLINK Center.

See Ms. Sanders’ profile for details on publications and projects.


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County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Team

Wilma J. Wooten, MD, MPH

Public Health Officer, County of San Diego HHSA

Dr. Wooten is the Public Health Officer for the County of San Diego. She received her professional degrees from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, followed by the completion of residency training at the Georgetown/Providence Hospital Family Practice Residency Program in Washington, DC. In 1989, she completed the joint SDSU, School of Public Health (SPH)/University of California San Diego (UCSD) Preventive Medicine Residency, with an emphasis in Sports Medicine. Dr. Wooten practiced medicine as a faculty member in the UCSD Department of Family and Preventive Medicine from 1990 to 2001. She remains a UCSD volunteer Associate Clinical Professor and is an Adjunct Professor at SDSU/SPH. She has been with the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency since 2001, initially as the Deputy Health Officer and now serves as the Public Health Officer since February 2007. She is an ardent supporter of public health and has a strong interest in health disparities and health equity. Dr. Wooten is a past board member, and past president (2011-13), of the California Conference of Local Health Officers; current Board member, and past President (2013-15) of the Health Officers Association of California; and past Board member (2009-2011) of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). Dr. Wooten is a current Board member of the Public Health Accreditation Board of Directors (2011-present), member of the NACCHO Big Cities Health Coalition (2014-present), and member of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015-2019).

See Dr. Wooten’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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Jo-Ann Julien, BA, MEd

Health Planning and Program Specialist, County of San Diego HHSA

Since 2015, Ms. Jo-Ann Julien has been leading the Office of Health Equity and Climate Change efforts and serving as Chair of the Health Equity Committee for the County of San Diego under the leadership of Dr. Wilma Wooten. Ms. Julien has been leading a collaborative effort on the public health impacts of climate change with eleven other organizations to help make San Diego the most resilient community in the nation. Ms. Julien also collaborates with other local health departments, and the state, and presents on panels and at conferences on this topic. Ms. Julien is a dynamic departmental champion for social and environmental justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. For the last three years, Ms. Julien has been active on the State of California’s Advisory Committee for Health Equity and chairing their planning sub-committee. She also represents the County on the Regional Health Equity Working Group and is now a member of the Health Equity and COVID-19 Task Force. Ms. Julien will help guide the work of the Health Equity Research Associate in collaboration with the SDSU HealthLINK Center.

See Ms. Julien’s profile for details on publications and projects.


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