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Debra Furr-Holden - Michigan State University. Flint, MI, US

Debra Furr-Holden Debra Furr-Holden

C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health | Michigan State University


Debra Furr-Holden is an epidemiologist with expertise in drug and alcohol dependence epidemiology and prevention science.






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Dr.Debra Furr-Holden: Wheelhouse Talk Joining the Fight - Debra Furr-Holden



Debra Furr-Holden is the the Associate Dean for Public Health Integration and Director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD; #U54MD011227). She also served as the MSU Co-Director of the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center. She is an epidemiologist and classically-trained public health professional with expertise in drug and alcohol dependence epidemiology, psychiatric epidemiology, and prevention science. She attended Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (BA Natural Sciences and Public Health, 1996) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (PhD, 1999).

In 2005, she initiated the Drug Investigations, Violence, and Environmental Studies Laboratory (The DIVE Studies Lab) at The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. In 2007, the group moved to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In January 2016, she moved back to Flint and became one of the C.S. Mott Endowed Professors of Public Health at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Flint Campus. When she came to the Division of Public Health, she immediately began working with grassroots community partners as well as academic partners and other stakeholders within and outside Michigan State University.

Furr-Holden says the move to MSU and back to Flint has been exciting and rewarding. As a returning Flint resident, she has a commitment to Flint that began early in adolescence. Her work in Flint is focused on behavioral health equity and policy-level interventions to promote health equity. Her action-oriented research is embedded with the principles and practices of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), so she conducts her research with her community and other research partners and not “to” them or “for” them. She fundamentally believes there is a seat for everyone at the table and she is honored and humbled to work with such an amazing and committed group of people. A working list of core community partners can be found here.

Industry Expertise (3)

Health Care - Facilities


Health Care - Services

Areas of Expertise (6)

Health Equity

Prevention Science

Drug and Alcohol Dependence


Public Health

Psychiatric Epidemiology

Education (2)

Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health: Ph.D., Drug & Alcohol Dependence, Epidemiology 1999

Johns Hopkins University Kreiger School of Arts & Sciences: B.A., Natural Sciences & Public Health 1996

News (13)

How public health partnerships are encouraging COVID-19 vaccination in Mississippi, Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina

The Conversation  online


This article was co-written by Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for Public Health Integration at Michigan State University. Initially, Michigan was one of many states with tremendous racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths. As a result, the state tried to make it easier for Blacks and other people of color to get tested, acquire personal protective equipment and, once vaccines became available, get vaccines. But as an epidemiologist who participated in the partnerships formed between the government, academics, health care professionals, nonprofits and philanthropic funders, I’m concerned because African Americans are still disproportionately getting COVID-19 and dying from it.

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How Flint closed the gap between Black and White suffering under COVID

Mother Jones  online


Just five minutes away from Debra Furr-Holden’s cluttered home office in Flint is the house she lived in as a teenager, on Pontiac Street, in a zip code that now has among the lowest life expectancies in the city: 73 years. I learned that last bit from Furr-Holden herself. She cited the figure the way you or I might describe a neighborhood by mentioning a famous building or some movie scene that was shot there. Furr-Holden is the associate dean for public health integration at Michigan State’s College of Human Medicine, and she sees the world through an epidemiologist’s eyes. Life and death are bound up in the particular conditions of place—in what Furr-Holden and her colleagues would call the social determinants of health.

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Could the U.S. have saved more lives? 5 alternate scenarios for the vaccine rollout

New York Times  online


Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for public health integration at Michigan State University, attributed at least some vaccine resistance to communications failures, starting with the branding of operation warp speed, the federal effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine quickly. “When people heard ‘warp speed,’ you know what they heard? Corner cutting, skipped steps, missed steps, quick and dirty,” she said. She said the United States should have launched a mass literacy campaign on vaccines long before they were produced and made it far easier to get vaccinated once shots were available. “We should be vaccinating people on their front doorsteps,” she said.

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7 lessons we've learned from this pandemic to remember for the next one

Self  online


Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order creating the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities last April. The program provided $20 million in funding to help local grassroots community organizations meet some of the most pressing community needs for the pandemic response, says Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University who is a member of the task force. The critical lesson Furr-Holden hopes we take away from Michigan's experience: It's essential to include people who represent their communities in planning and executing a pandemic response.

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Despite disparities, Michigan is not gathering race data on COVID vaccines

Bridge Michigan  online


Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Michigan State University, who has devoted her professional career to health equity, called the gap in race data collection a “predictable and avoidable breakdown” for a public health system that needs accurate information to identify and shrink health disparities. Furr-Holden was appointed to the 23-member coronavirus task force in April, when 40% of state residents who had died from COVID were African American, a group that comprises less than 14% of the state’s population. Listed first among the panel’s priorities was to recommend ways the state can “increase transparency in reporting data regarding the racial and ethnic impact of COVID-19.”

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Equity ‘should be a requirement, our tax dollars paid for what's in the vial’: Dr. Debra Furr-Holden

MSNBC  online


There’s still a key population not being vaccinated right now in our country. Epidemiologist Debra Furr-Holden joins Stephanie Ruhle to explain why equal access needs to play a more serious role in the vaccine distribution process. “I think our first mistake that we can correct immediately is that we should be mandating equity, it should be a requirement.” said Furr-Holden. “Our tax dollars pay for what’s in the vial, and there should be conditions attached to states receiving the vaccine. They should be required to ensure that those barriers, many of which predate COVID and will likely live on after COVID, that they are required to demonstrate that they do get it to communities equally and equitably. If they can’t do that, then we should prioritize the states who can.” The pandemic has only widened the disparities gap, Furr-Holden said.

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Christmas, New Year’s travel sets new pandemic high

The Wall Street Jounral  online


Public health authorities have said that small gatherings and shared meals led to post-Thanksgiving Day spikes of Covid-19 cases around the country and predicted that Christmas and New Year’s would lead to similar surges. In the past seven days, there have been some 1.5 million new cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., according to the CDC. U.S. hospitalizations on Sunday were at a record-high of 125,544 people, according to analysis from the Covid Tracking Project. Data is still likely affected by the holidays, when closed offices and limited staffing lead to lags in reporting. Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for public-health integration at Michigan State University, said the post-holiday reality will be an increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths. “This is just how this works,” she said.

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What's not being said about why African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine

The Conversation  online


This article was written by Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for Public Health Integration, Michigan State University. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other national health leaders have said that African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health. What Fauci and others have not stated is that if African Americans don't take the vaccine, the nation as whole will never get to herd immunity. The concept of herd immunity, also referred to as community immunity, is fairly simple. When a significant proportion of the population, or the herd, becomes immune from the virus, the entire population will have some acceptable degree of protection. Immunity can occur through natural immunity from personal infection and recovery, or through vaccination. Once a population reaches herd immunity, the likelihood of person-to-person spread becomes very low.

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5 Epidemiologist and Public Health Moms on Their Children’s Back-to-School Plans

Working Mother  online


Debra Furr-Holden, director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions at Michigan State University: “When my daughter's college informed the students and parents that they were opening and receiving students on campus, I was sure my recent high school graduate, Olivia, would make the ‘right choice.' She's heard me on Zooms and national media advocating against school re-opening. In my professional opinion, we are not ready. There are too many unknowns and a lack of community-wide testing in school-aged children, including college students. But I trusted that Olivia was able to make this decision for herself. On decision day, she simply said, ‘I'm going.' I was shocked. How could she come to this conclusion? She told me the testing protocol at her college and reminded me that despite being around people who tested positive, she had not contracted the virus. She gave back my own words: ‘Honor the protocols.' She reassured me if the promises made by her college were not honored and enforced, she would return home.”

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Epidemiologist says time isn’t right for travel’s restart

Travel Weekly  online


And that’s just as well, according to epidemiologist Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for public health integration at Michigan State University. She said that because coronavirus is not under control in the United States, the country isn’t ready to resume travel...

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Ask the Expert: Covid-19 Testing

MSU Today  online


We continue to hear that widespread testing is key to safely reopening states/communities. Why are states reopening without requiring mass public testing? A: We do need community wide testing of asymptomatic people before we can effectively get a handle on exposure and do appropriate contact tracing. States are re-opening without this widespread testing because the governors are responding to people’s demand to reopen and states don’t have sufficient testing strategies and capacity to do regular, community-wide testing. In addition, testing sites are coming on and offline and the best sources of testing are at the local level and change at least weekly.

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Curran: 'Communities of color have been devastated by this crisis'

Newsday  online


Debra Furr-Holden, a member of Michigan's Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, has researched the issue of health care inequalities. “The first thing we need to understand is how we got here. What are the things that give rise to pre-existing health conditions?" said Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist who is associate dean for public health at Michigan State University..

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Local task force formed for racial equity in Covid-19 response

Flint Side  online


The local task force was announced just a few days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed a state racial disparities task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. The two task forces share a member, Debra Furr Holden, a C.S. Mott endowed professor of public health with Michigan State University...

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Journal Articles (6)

Are Clinicians Contributing to Excess African American COVID-19 Deaths? Unbeknownst to Them, They May Be

Health Equity

2020 African Americans are overrepresented among reported coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases and deaths. There are a multitude of factors that may explain the African American disparity in COVID-19 outcomes, including higher rates of comorbidities. While individual-level factors predictably contribute to disparate COVID-19 outcomes, systematic and structural factors have not yet been reported.

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The Violence Prevention Potential of Reducing Alcohol Outlet Access in Baltimore, Maryland

Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

2020 There are few cost-effectiveness analyses that model alcohol outlet zoning policies. This study determines the potential decreases in homicides, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), and victim and criminal justice costs associated with four policy options that would reduce the alcohol outlet access in Baltimore.

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Neighbourhood alcohol environment and injury risk: a spatial analysis of pedestrian injury in Baltimore City

Injury Prevention

2019 The purpose of this study was to investigate the contribution of neighbourhood disorder around alcohol outlets to pedestrian injury risk.

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When Marijuana Is Used before Cigarettes or Alcohol: Demographic Predictors and Associations with Heavy Use, Cannabis Use Disorder, and Other Drug-related Outcomes

Prevention Science

2018 Recent loosening of state and federal policy restrictions on marijuana, along with changes in social norms regarding marijuana use and decreases in prevalence of other types of substance use, may lead to increases in youth initiating marijuana before other types of substances such as alcohol and tobacco. We investigated predictors and potential consequences of initiating marijuana before other drugs for youth aged 12–21-years in the USA. Nationally representative, cross-sectional survey data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health supplied self-reported age of first marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol, other tobacco, and other illegal drug use among 12–21-year-old samples from 2004 to 2014 (n = 275,559).

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Finding Significant Stress Episodes in a Discontinuous Time Series of Rapidly Varying Mobile Sensor Data

Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

2016 Management of daily stress can be greatly improved by delivering sensor-triggered just-in-time interventions (JITIs) on mobile devices. The success of such JITIs critically depends on being able to mine the time series of noisy sensor data to find the most opportune moments.

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Differences in Obesity Among Men of Diverse Racial and Ethnic Background

American Journal of Men's Health

2015 Racial/ethnic disparities exist in obesity prevalence among men, with Hispanic men exhibiting the highest prevalence compared with non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Black men. Most studies do not parse out Hispanic groups; therefore, it is unclear whether the increases in obesity rates among Hispanic men applies to all groups or if there are particular groups of Hispanic men that are driving the increase.

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