UF Health outcomes faculty member to head new research program in The Villages®

Carla VandeWeerd, Ph.D.A researcher who has spent more than a decade working on the health needs of the people living in The Villages®  has joined the University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics, where she will direct a new UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute research program in the sprawling retirement community.

Carla VandeWeerd, Ph.D., joins the department as an associate professor after 14 years at the University of South Florida, where she developed a robust research program within The Villages® focused on community and clinical trials research, rooted in the principles of community-based participatory research engagement.

An hour south of Gainesville, The Villages® is one of the largest retirement communities in the U.S. — home to more than 130,000 residents over the age of 55. In support of the community’s goal of making The Villages® America’s Healthiest Hometown, VandeWeerd will work with leadership and colleagues to grow and expand opportunities for research, education and training. 

“We are thrilled to expand our presence in The Villages® and to bring Dr. VandeWeerd’s expertise to UF,” said Betsy Shenkman, Ph.D., department chair  and co-director of the CTSI. “Engaging the community in research is even more urgent as we face one of the biggest public health challenges of our time.”

VandeWeerd’s research interests focus on the intersection of data, technology and health, and she maintains an active research portfolio with more than $1 million in funded projects from state, federal and industry sources. VandeWeerd is a highly skilled mixed-methods researcher and her work exploring health and health care in The Villages® resulted in successful collection of interview, focus group and survey data from more than 30,000 older adults, and was awarded the Erickson Award for Excellence in Aging Research by the American Public Health Association.

In addition to the conduct of health outcomes research in hospital, primary-care and community practice settings, VandeWeerd’s research includes work as a principal investigator in the development of a home-based sensor system that uses passive sensing  — or pressure, contact and motion sensors — to monitor the health and wellness of community-residing seniors.

Additionally, in conjunction with industry partners, VandeWeerd leads a clinical trial exploring the use of BNA (functional EEG) technology as a tool to support early identification of cognitive and mental health impairments in men and women aged 55 and older. Most recently, she has collaborated with UF faculty to set up a COVID-19 field-testing site at The Villages®, which successfully tested more than 4,000 older adults for COVID-19; the process and results were published online by New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst.

“Dr. VandeWeerd’s experience will open up possibilities to answer research questions with the collaboration of residents in a unique and important community as we bring a UF presence to The Villages®,” said Duane A. Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CTSI and assistant vice president for research with UF. “We look forward to many years of continued work in partnership with the people of The Villages®.”

Over the course of a decade working with The Villages®, VandeWeerd has developed a deep understanding of the community and its needs, which serves as a strong foundation for the research partnership, said Elliot Sussman, M.D., M.B.A., chair of The Villages Health.

“We are extremely excited about the expanded opportunities for community and clinical trials research that will stem from The Villages®’ partnership with the University of Florida,” Sussman said. “The Villages® represents a very unique opportunity to conduct aging research and we are confident that the work done here will not only benefit the Villagers who live in our community, but it will lead to improvements in scientific understanding and clinical practice that benefit seniors living across Florida and the nation.”

VandeWeerd’s teaching portfolio includes teaching courses on grant writing, applied research, social determinants of health and analytics to graduate students, and her work in The Villages® provides research and learning opportunities for students from a range of interdisciplinary backgrounds at the undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels.

VandeWeerd has served as a member of the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Value Driven Health Care, and she has provided service to her profession as a reviewer for the National Institutes of Health Community Influences on Behavior Section and to the Specialized Centers on Research Excellence program. Additionally, VandeWeerd provides service to her profession through work as an active reviewer for multiple journals, including The American Journal of Public Health.

Media contact: Ken Garcia at kdgarcia@ufl.edu or 352-273-9799.

Learn more about UF Health's efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic at Coronavirus.UFHealth.org.

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Meghan Meyer

Associate Director, Communications/University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute

Meghan Meyer is the Associate Director of Communications for the University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which accelerates the translation of scientific discoveries into improved health. After nearly...Read More