Cheryl Kelly, PhD, MPH, MA

Senior Investigator

Cheryl Kelly, PhD, MPH, MA, is a Senior Investigator at the Institute for Health Research and is the Director of the Partners in Evaluation & Research Center (PiER Center). Dr. Kelly has been a public health researcher with a focus on evaluation and learning for 15 years. By design, her portfolio has largely been funded by regional and national foundations. These projects provide her with an opportunity to conduct real-world research and evaluation and allow her to support public health interventions directly impacting the community. The beginning of Dr. Kelly’s career was focused on developing methodology to measure the impact of the built environment on physical activity and healthy eating. This work highlighted the importance of policy, system, and environmental changes to support healthier behaviors. However, she quickly realized that to improve health behaviors, we first must address basic needs. Dr. Kelly personally believes having a place to call home and food to nourish your body will lead to reduced health disparities and improved population health. Over the past 7 years, her work has shifted to focus more on assessing the impact of policy, system, and environmental interventions designed to change upstream factors (e.g., housing, food security, education). Dr. Kelly’s focus has been on understanding why disparities exist and what social determinants of health interventions can have the greatest impact on reducing disparities. Additionally, she works closely with two entities with a national focus, Kaiser Permanente National Community Health and Kaiser Permanente National Community Health and the Social Needs Network for Evaluation and Translation (SONNET), to integrate evaluation and research into KP’s community and social health initiatives. Dr. Kelly has expertise in measurement of neighborhood and social factors, including accessing and managing large neighborhood-level datasets, and assessing the impact of policy, system, environmental changes on health behaviors and health outcomes.

Dr. Kelly earned her PhD in Public Health Sciences (emphasis in Behavioral Science) at Saint Louis University where she also completed her Master of Public Health degree.

Dr. Kelly is faculty in the Department of Health Systems Science at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, serves as a reviewer for a number of academic journals, and is an Associate Editor for the Health Behavior and Policy Review.

Selected Research:

  • Thrive Local Evaluation
  • This national project is assessing the implementation and effectiveness of the Thrive Local initiative (across 8 Kaiser Permanente regions). Thrive Local links clinical care to social care through data integration with community-based partner organizations. Thrive Local consists of three key functions: a resource directory that provides up-to-date and searchable information on community resources; geographically-based networks of social service organizations; and a technology platform that engages clinicians and staff, members, and employees of community organizations to make rapid, secure referrals between health care providers and social care providers and track the outcomes of those referrals. The evaluation is using a mixed methods approach, combining qualitative data on implementation and user experience with quantitative data on reach of the initiative and individual patient outcomes. The implementation evaluation is assessing the extent to which the social needs system elements are in place and functioning. The outcome evaluation is assessing the overall reach of the Thrive Local, including the characteristics of patients who consent to participate and receive services from CBOs and the overall effectiveness of Thrive Local on reducing patients’ social need burden over time and improved health outcomes.

    • Funder: Kaiser Permanente National Community Health
    • Award End Date: 12/31/2022

  • Evaluating Colorado regulations that grant cities the authority to support the safe and equitable operations of mobile home communities 
  • Newly enacted Colorado HB1309, 1196, and 1201 require the Colorado Division of Housing to institute new regulations for manufactured housing parks and grants cities the authority to enact ordinances that support the safe and equitable operation of these communities. This study will evaluate the implementation process and impact of these policies in 3 different Colorado communities. The first aim is to use a case study approach and conduct a policy implementation evaluation of all 3 policies to determine how implementation varied across three diverse Colorado communities. The second aim is to use a cross-sectional pre-post design to assess the impact of all 3 policies on housing security, safety, and affordability in all 3 communities. This study will fill a gap in the literature by assessing how these statewide policies are implemented in three different small to moderate-sized communities and the impact of the policy on the housing security of the residents who live there.

    • Funder: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
    • Award End Date: 11/30/2022

  • Cross-site Evaluation of 14 Communities’ Efforts to Address Upstream Factors and Reduce Health Disparities
  • The Office of Health Equity’s (OHE) Health Disparities Grant Program (HDGP) is providing support to agencies across Colorado to address upstream determinants of health (e.g., housing, education) with the goal of improving downstream health outcomes (e.g., access to care, decreased chronic disease rates). The goal of this project is to conduct a comprehensive cross-site evaluation of these funded agencies implementing system or policy changes that reduce health disparities (e.g., housing insecurity, food insecurity, unemployment). The evaluation is assessing the role of community engagement, community capacity building, and multisectoral partnerships in advancing the community’s collective action to solve problems and how that informed policy, environmental, and system changes designed to improve access to social and economic resources. Innovative methods have been developed to measure authentic community engagement and the role of partners and community members in making decisions. Additionally, an in-depth evaluation is being conducted to assess how the partnership network and community engagement helped drive the prioritization and adoption of PSE changes.

    • Funder: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Office of Health Equity
    • Award End Date: 06/30/2021

  • Evaluating Policy, Environmental, and Programmatic Efforts to Improve Health Behaviors
  • The goal of this project is to conduct a comprehensive cross-site evaluation of 22 organizations or sites implementing strategies ranging from healthy eating and active living policies to clinical system improvements to health behavior improvement programs (e.g., Diabetes Prevention Program). The purpose of the cross-site evaluation is to document and assess changes in healthy behaviors (e.g., physical activity, healthy eating, HPV vaccination, self-measured blood pressure) and health outcomes (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension) over a three-year period. Two in-depth evaluations are also being implemented. First, an in-depth policy impact assessment is being implemented to provide estimates of the impact of policy changes on health behaviors and health outcomes and assess the quality of the policy and the intended and unintended consequences of the change. Results will inform and improve policy development, adoption, implementation, and effectiveness and build the evidence base for policy interventions. Second, behavior change programs are incorporating screening and referring for food insecurity and housing insecurity. An in-depth evaluation is being conducted to understand the barriers and facilitators to incorporating this process into their program workflows and to assess who is screened and screens positive for a need and the characteristics of individuals who accept assistance and ultimately receive assistance.

    • Funder: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment
    • Award End Date: 12/31/2021