When Charlie Apigian heard that Belmont University was building a data collaborative, he wanted to help.
“I thought I was advising them on how to do it. Not that I was going to take it over,” Apigian, a former Middle Tennessee State University professor, told the Business Journal. “It just really sounded like my dream job. … The object was data skills for all and data for good, and those are the two things that I have incredible passion for. I just knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Last year, Apigian did just that, joining the school as its data collaborative executive director.
Eleven months later, the Belmont Data Collaborative has launched its Online Data Platform, an open platform that takes publicly available data — such as health care, affordable housing and education data — and aggregates it in a central location for public use and problem solving, Apigian said. You can check out the platform here.
The collaborative has also embarked on it’s first project utilizing the data, working with some of Nashville’s top health care organizations, including NashvilleHealth, HCA Healthcare Inc., Change Healthcare, the Center for Medical Interoperability, NTT Data Inc., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
Belmont University is Nashville’s fourth-largest university, according to Nashville Business Journal research, with 10,249 total students enrolled as of December 2021.
The collaborative’s platform features a data warehouse and a mapping tool that allows users to visually search, track and compare data at community levels, such as a U.S. census tract or ZIP code. It is also developing a tool that will help people work together with the data to solve problems. That is expected to be live in the fall, according to the collaborative’s website.
Apigian said he expects nonprofits, corporations, governments, community organizations, individuals and Belmont students to use the new tools to make decisions ranging from where to build a new clinic to which neighborhoods need sidewalks.
Belmont Data Collaborative Director Catherine Bass said those decisions are why the new collaboration tool will play an essential role in maximizing the data’s impact.
“You’re going to have people there that are not data savvy at all, but it gives them a place to meet up with the data savvy people,” Bass said in an interview. “A year from now, I hope this foundation of data we’ve built will be bigger and better and an active platform for community engagement. That’s where we are going to get change. Charlie and I are not going to be building clinics and food banks, but we are going to be empowering people who might do those things with data.”
The collaborative’s first project is in concert with NashvilleHealth, a public-health nonprofit founded by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, which approached the collaborative about studying hypertension data in Nashville.
The effort led to the creation of the Healthy Community Insights working group, consisting of more than 50 area organizations. The group released its report this week, finding that the city spends more than $126 million each year on health care costs related to hypertension, yet nearly one third of Nashville residents still suffer from the condition.
The prevalence of hypertension varies widely between ZIP codes, according to the report, with Black individuals experiencing twice as many hypertension-related hospitalizations as white people.
Apigian said the collaborative’s data can be used to look at things such as an area’s access to healthy foods to understand why a particular ZIP code may have higher hypertension rates than others.
“I’m all about informing [organizations] with our data to make sure we are not leaving a certain ZIP codes behind,” Apigian said. “We have a major transformation happening in Nashville and we want to do that with the idea of helping those in need. We have to take care of our own just as much the people coming from California.”
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