Alexis A Merdjanoff
Clinical Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Dr. Alexis Merdjanoff is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Social and Behavioral Sciences at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. She is a public health sociologist who explores how population health is affected by exposure to natural hazards, including hurricanes, floods, extreme heat and wildfires. Dr. Merdjanoff is particularly interested in how social inequalities shape the impact of hazards on health, recovery, and resilience for vulnerable populations. To do so, she collects and analyzes survey and interview data to form a holistic understanding of how individuals and communities are affected by these events. While disasters have traditionally been thought of as finite phenomena—with a majority of research focused on the immediate consequences—her research reveals how environmental stressors can lead to economic, emotional, and health burdens long after an event has passed. By focusing on the long-term effects of disasters, she has been able to determine why some survivors are able to recover quickly while others remain mired for months or years.
As Director of Research for the Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience (PiR2) research program, she is currently working on several studies, including the longitudinal Katrina@10 Program, the Sandy Child and Family Health (S-CAFH) Study, and SCALE-UP East Boston to answer questions related to improving the health and well-being of populations exposed to disasters and climate change. More recently, her work has explored the post-disaster resilience of older adults and how older adults can successfully age in high-risk coastal areas. Using in-depth interviews, she aims to identify the resources that older adults need to be resilient, including the social and physical infrastructures needed to successfully prepare for and recover from acute and chronic natural hazards. Her goal is to understand how older adults can successfully adapt to and prepare for coastal erosion, frequent flooding, heatwaves, and disasters.
Dr. Merdjanoff frequently engages in mixed-methods research, including semi-structured in-depth interviewing, focus groups, and survey analysis. Trained as a sociologist, she believes in a holistic approach to answering questions surrounding health, disaster exposure, and recovery. Dr. Merdjanoff teaches several public health courses including, “Qualitative & Field Methods in Global Public Health,” and “Global Issues in Social & Behavioral Health.”
BS, Sociology (Magna Cum Laude), New York University, New York, NYMA, Sociology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJPhD, Sociology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Innovator Program Fellow, National Center for Atmospheric Research (2019)Butler-Williams Scholar, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health (2019)Aging and Rural Health Research Award, American Public Health Association, Aging and Public Health Section (2017)Best Dissertation in Mental Health, American Sociological Association, Sociology of Mental Health section (2016)Anne Foner Dissertation Prize, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University (2016)Matilda White Riley Published Article Award for Outstanding Journal Article, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University (2013)Weather & Society Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) Fellow (2011)Graduate School Special Study Award, Rutgers University (2011)
Aging and the Life CourseDisaster Impact and RecoveryHousing StabilityMental HealthMixed-Methods ResearchSocial BehaviorsSocial Determinants of Health
Adverse Physical and Mental Health Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill among Gulf Coast Children: An Environmental Justice PerspectiveMeltzer, G. Y., Merdjanoff, A. A., & Abramson, D. M.
Journal titleEnvironmental Justice
Page(s)124-133AbstractBackground: This study applies an environmental justice lens to examine whether racial/ethnic minority and low socioeconomic status affected children's physical and mental health after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It expands this lens to explore whether these risk factors affected children's health due to greater direct physical exposure to crude oil or dispersant and/or household economic exposure as a result of income or job loss. Methods: We used data from the Gulf Coast Population Impact (GCPI) study, a representative survey of 1434 households in 15 highly impacted Gulf Coast communities gathered from April to August 2012. We conducted binomial logistic regression to assess the associations between race/ethnicity and annual household income, oil spill exposure routes, and children's health. Results: Non-White children (prevalence odds ratios [POR] 1.40; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.04-1.89) and those with direct oil/dispersant exposure (POR 3.68; 95% CI 2.78-4.87) were at greater risk of physical health problems. Children in households earning less than $20,000 annually (POR 2.90; 95% CI 1.88-4.48) and those with direct oil/dispersant exposure (POR 3.74; 95% CI 2.72-5.14) were at greater risk of mental health problems. Racial/ethnic minority children were not at greater risk of physical exposure, whereas race/ethnicity and annual household income interacted to determine risk of economic exposure. We observed an interaction effect between annual household income and oil spill-related income or job loss on children's physical health problems. Discussion: Further environmental justice research should examine the pathways through which racial/ethnic minority and low socioeconomic status influence child health outcomes after technological disasters.
Anticipated mental health consequences of COVID-19 in a nationally-representative sample: Context, coverage, and economic consequencesPiltch-Loeb, R., Merdjanoff, A., & Meltzer, G.
Journal titlePreventive Medicine
Volume145AbstractThe COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term consequences due to social and economic disruption. This study aimed to understand the contextual, media, and economic factors associated with anticipated mental health consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic among Americans. A nationally representative survey of 1001 respondents was conducted in April 2020. Chi-square tests and logistic regressions examined anticipated emotional or psychological effects on respondents or members of their households should social distancing measures continue. Specific analyses focused on: 1) COVID-19 experience - knowing someone or being infected; living in a state with a high death rate; or state social distancing policies; 2) media exposure - source of coronavirus information and time spent on coronavirus news; and 3) economics - current economic effects; and anticipated long-term financial effects. 41% of respondents anticipated mental health consequences. Living in a state with a greater COVID-19 death rate (OR 1.73; 95% CI 1.10, 2.72) and anticipating long-term financial difficulties (OR 2.98; 95% CI 1.93, 4.60) were both associated with greater likelihood of anticipated mental health consequences. Those whose primary news source was television, as opposed to print or online, were almost 50% less likely to anticipate mental health challenges (OR 0.52 CI 0.33, 0.81), while those who reported spending two or more hours daily on COVID-19 news were 90% more likely (OR 1.90; 95% CI 1.27, 2.85). Aspects of community health, media consumption, and economic impacts influence anticipated poor mental health from the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting each domain is relevant to interventions to address the consequences.
Scales and sensitivities in climate vulnerability, displacement, and healthHunter, L. M., Koning, S., Fussell, E., King, B., Rishworth, A., Merdjanoff, A., Muttarak, R., Riosmena, F., Simon, D. H., Skop, E., & Van Den Hoek, J.
Journal titlePopulation and Environment
Page(s)61-81AbstractClimate change and attendant weather events are global phenomena with wide-ranging implications for migration and health. We argue that while these issues are inherently interrelated, little empirical or policy attention has been given to the three-way nexus between climate vulnerability, migration, and health. In this Review, we develop a conceptual model to guide research on this three-way nexus. In so doing, we apply our conceptual model to a range of case studies, including Bangladesh, Mexico, Myanmar, and the USA. They illustrate that climate vulnerability-migration-health interlinkages are context specific, varying by political, economic, demographic, social, and environmental factors unique to each population and place. Even so, the case studies also demonstrate that overarching themes amenable to policy can be identified. Global organizations and researchers from a multiplicity of disciplinary backgrounds have strong imperatives and unique but often overlooked capacity to innovate and experiment in addressing climate vulnerability-migration-health interlinkages. We call for research and policy focus on these issues and suggest targeted efforts to begin mitigating migration and health issues associated with global climate change.
The Fight for Affordable Rental Housing in 1980s New York: A Tenants’ Association’s Anticonversion StanceMerdjanoff, A. A.
Journal titleJournal of Urban History
Page(s)606-622AbstractThis article examines an historical case study of a moderate-income rental complex’s condominium conversion in New York City during the 1980s. Despite research suggesting that tenants desire homeownership, residents of Park West Village (PWV) waged a five-year battle against management and remained tenants in overwhelming numbers when two buildings were converted to condominiums in 1987. Using historical documents, I examine why tenants fought against local growth and rejected the opportunity to accumulate personal capital through homeownership. I posit that the Park West Village Tenants’ Association (PWVTA) garnered considerable resident support by engaging in three economically driven frames against conversion at the individual, community, and state level. Despite the clear link between urban growth and conversions, the process and local opposition to conversion has yet to be examined. This historical case contributes to research on tenants’ associations, affordable rental housing, and considers how widespread condominium conversion contributed to inequality.
When rebuilding no longer means recovery: the stress of staying put after Hurricane SandyKoslov, L., Merdjanoff, A., Sulakshana, E., & Klinenberg, E.
Journal titleClimatic Change
Issue3AbstractAfter a disaster, it is common to equate repopulation and rebuilding with recovery. Numerous studies link post-disaster relocation to adverse social, economic, and health outcomes. However, there is a need to reconsider these relationships in light of accelerating climate change and associated social and policy shifts in the USA, including the rising cost of flood insurance, the challenge of obtaining aid to rebuild, and growing interest in “managed retreat” from places at greatest risk. This article presents data from a survey of individuals who opted either to rebuild in place or relocate with the help of a voluntary home buyout after Hurricane Sandy. Findings show those who lived in buyout-eligible areas and relocated were significantly less likely to report worsened stress than those who rebuilt in place. This suggests access to a government-supported voluntary relocation option may, under certain circumstances, lessen the negative mental health consequences associated with disaster-related housing damage.
Identifying Barriers and Facilitators of Success for Female Radiology Researchers: An Analysis of In-Depth Interviews With Nationally Recognized Leaders of the FieldPiltch-Loeb, R., Rosenkrantz, A. B., & Merdjanoff, A. A.
Journal titleJournal of the American College of Radiology
Page(s)1344-1351AbstractObjective: Women are highly underrepresented among leadership positions within radiology research, disproportionate to their underrepresentation in radiology overall. We sought to identify the causes and solutions of such disparity at the personal, organizational, and institutional levels among female radiology researchers who are leaders in the field. Subjects and methods: We used purposive sampling to identify nationally recognized female leaders in radiology research. We developed a semistructured interview guide and conducted in-depth one-on-one telephone interviews with participants (n = 16) that ranged from 36 to 65 min. All interviews were recorded and transcribed. Data were analyzed by two researchers trained in qualitative methods using Saldana's first- and second-cycle coding method. Themes were identified using a grounded theory approach to identify meaningful patterns that addressed the research question. Results: Participants identified barriers to their professional development and success, including personal and professional obstacles often associated with work-life balance and the nonlinear nature of women's careers because of caregiving responsibilities. Participants also identified facilitators of success that operated at the individual, organizational, and institutional level, such as purposeful networking, having an advocate, and participating in leadership events. Conclusion: This study represents the first effort to qualitatively capture the facilitators of success for nationally recognized female radiology researchers. Findings suggest that synergistic efforts can be undertaken by early-career female radiologists and their colleagues, national radiology organizations, and academic institutions to systematically enable the inclusion and participation of women. The field of radiology should consider how to work dynamically at multiple levels to implement the identified potential changes.
Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural America
Housing Transitions and Recovery of Older Adults following Hurricane SandyMerdjanoff, A. A., Piltch-Loeb, R., Friedman, S., & Abramson, D. M.
Journal titleJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Page(s)1041-1052AbstractObjectives: This study explores the effects of social and environmental disruption on emergency housing transitions among older adults following Hurricane Sandy. It is based upon the Sandy Child and Family Health (S-CAFH) Study, an observational cohort of 1,000 randomly sampled New Jersey residents living in the nine counties most affected by Sandy. Methods: This analysis examines the post-Sandy housing transitions and recovery of the young-old (55-64), mid-old (65-74), and old-old (75+) compared with younger adults (19-54). We consider length of displacement, number of places stayed after Sandy, the housing host (i.e., family only, friends only, or multi-host), and self-reported recovery. Results: Among all age groups, the old-old (75+) reported the highest rates of housing damage and were more likely to stay in one place besides their home, as well as stay with family rather than by themselves after the storm. Despite this disruption, the old-old were most likely to have recovered from Hurricane Sandy. Discussion: Findings suggest that the old-old were more resilient to Hurricane Sandy than younger age groups. Understanding the unique post-disaster housing needs of older adults can help identify critical points of intervention for their post-disaster recovery.
Support for vector control strategies in the United States during the Zika outbreak in 2016: The role of risk perception, knowledge, and confidence in governmentPiltch-Loeb, R., Merdjanoff, A. A., Bhanja, A., & Abramson, D. M.
Journal titlePreventive Medicine
Page(s)52-57AbstractLimiting the spread and impact of Zika was a major global priority in 2016, which required a variety of vector control measures. The success of vector control campaigns is varied and often dependent on public or political will. This paper examines the change over time in the United States population's support for vector control and the factors that predicted support for three vector control strategies (i.e., indoor spraying, outdoor spraying, and use of larvacide tablets) during the 2016 Zika outbreak in the United States. Data is from a nationally representative random digit dial sample conducted at three time points in 2016. Bivariate and multivariate regression analyses were used, treating data as a pooled cross-sectional sample. Results show public support for vector control strategies depends on both perceived risk for disease and knowledge of disease characteristics, as well is confidence in government to prevent the threat. Support varied based on vector control method: indoor spraying, aerial spraying, and use of larvacide tables. Results can aide public health officials in implementing effective vector control campaigns depending on the vector control strategy of choice. Results have implications for ways to design effective prevention campaigns in future emerging infectious disease threats.
How the US Population Engaged with and Prioritized Sources of Information about the Emerging Zika Virus in 2016Piltch-Loeb, R., Merdjanoff, A. A., & Abramson, D. M.
Journal titleHealth Security
Page(s)165-177AbstractEmerging disease threats like Zika pose a risk to naïve populations. In comparison to chronic diseases, there is scientific uncertainty surrounding emerging diseases because of the lack of medical and public health information available as the threat emerges. Further complicating this are the multiple, diverse channels through which people get information. This article used bivariate and multivariate analysis to first describe the breadth of information sources individuals accessed about the Zika virus, and then describe individuals' primary sources of information for Zika using a nationally representative pooled cross-sectional data set collected at 3 time points in 2016 (N = 3,698). The analysis also highlights how 3 subgroups - high-education, high-income adults; Hispanic women of childbearing age; and retirees over the age of 65 with less than a high school education - varied in their use of information. Results suggest individuals accessed multiple sources, but TV and radio were the primary sources of Zika information for the public, followed by print news. Demographic variation in primary source of information means public health officials should consider alternative channels to reach target groups in an emerging event. Without an understanding of how information has reached people, and who individuals engaged with regarding that information, public health practitioners are missing a key piece of the puzzle to improving public health campaigns during a future event like Zika. This analysis aims to inform the public health community about the message channels the US population uses during an emerging disease event and the most prevalent channels for different demographic groups, who can be targeted with particular messaging.
Risk salience of a novel virus: US population risk perception, knowledge, and receptivity to public health interventions regarding the Zika virus prior to local transmissionPiltch-Loeb, R., Abramson, D. M., & Merdjanoff, A. A.
Journal titlePloS one
Issue12AbstractBackground As the incidence of Zika infection accelerated in Central and South American countries from November 2015 through April 2016, U.S. public health officials developed vector control and risk communication strategies to address mosquito-borne and sexual modes of transmission. This study reports upon U.S. perceptions of the Zika virus prior to domestic transmission, and analyzes the association of socio-economic, political, knowledge and risk factors with population receptivity to selected behavioral, environmental, and clinical intervention strategies. Methods A representative sample of 1,233 U.S. residents was drawn from address-based telephone and mobile phone lists, including an oversample of 208 women of child-bearing age living in five U.S. southern states. Data were collected between April and June, 2016, and weighted to represent U.S. population distributions. Results Overall, 78% of the U.S. population was aware of Zika prior to domestic transmission. Those unaware of the novel virus were more likely to be younger, lower income, and of Hispanic ethnicity. Among those aware of Zika, over half would delay pregnancy for a year or more in response to public health warnings; approximately one third agreed with a possible vector-control strategy of targeted indoor spraying by the government; and nearly two-thirds agreed that the government should make pregnancy-termination services available to women who learn their fetus had a Zika-related birth defect. Receptivity to these public health interventions varied by age, risk perception, and knowledge of the virus. Conclusion Risk salience and population receptivity to public health interventions targeting a novel virus can be conditioned on pre-existing characteristics in the event of an emerging infectious disease. Risk communicators should consider targeted strategies to encourage adoption of behavioral, environmental, and clinical interventions.
Disaster planning for vulnerable populations: Leveraging community human service organizations direct service delivery personnelLevin, K. L., Berliner, M., & Merdjanoff, A.
Journal titleJournal of Public Health Management and Practice
Page(s)S79-S82AbstractIntroduction: Given the variability, complexities, and available resources for local vulnerable populations, it is clear that preparing effectively for catastrophic events cannot be accomplished with a single, simple template. Inclusion of Community Human Service Organizations' (CHSO's) direct service delivery personnel ensures that emergency disaster planning efforts for vulnerable populations are effective and responsive to unique needs and constraints. By leveraging existing local resources, it extends the preparedness system's reach to the whole community. Background: CHSO personnel already perform community-based services and directly engage with vulnerable and special needs populations; typically they are on the front lines during an emergency event. Generally, however, the CHSOs, staff, and clients are neither adequately prepared for disasters nor well integrated into emergency systems. To address preparedness gaps identified during Hurricane Sandy, regional CHSO and local health department partners requested that the Columbia Regional Learning Center provide preparedness trainings for their agencies and staff responsible for vulnerable clients. Methods: Evaluation of this initiative was begun with a mixed-methods approach consisting of collaborative learning activities, a function-based assessment tool, and a 5 Steps to Preparedness module. Results: Results from a survey were inclusive because of a low response rate but suggested satisfaction with the training format and content; increases in awareness of a client preparedness role; and steps toward improved personal, agency, and client preparedness. Discussion: Direct service delivery personnel can leverage routine client interactions for preparedness planning and thus can contribute significantly to vulnerable population and community disaster readiness. Trainings that provide preparedness tools can help support this role. Lessons Learned: CHSO personnel are knowledgeable and have the expertise to assist clients in personal preparedness planning; yet, there are challenges around their ability and willingness to take on additional responsibilities.
There's no place like home: Examining the emotional consequences of Hurricane Katrina on the displaced residents of New OrleansMerdjanoff, A. A.
Journal titleSocial Science Research
Page(s)1222-1235AbstractUsing survey data from the Displaced New Orleans Residents Pilot Study (DNORPS), I examine the emotional consequences of Hurricane Katrina on the displaced residents of New Orleans. First, I employ an established framework within disaster research to investigate whether the stress level of displaced residents varies by race, income, and gender. As the residents in this dataset remained uprooted from their homes, I also examine three housing variables, including homeownership status, house type, and four levels of home damage. Contrary to previous research, home damage and homeownership status are significant predictors of displaced residents' emotional distress while the effect of race disappears. These findings suggest that future research on the mental health of disaster survivors, especially for displaced residents, expand the traditional analytical framework to consistently include housing variables, especially different categories of home damage, in addition to race, income, and gender.