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
Development of an Integrated Approach to Virtual Mind-Mapping: Methodology and Applied Experiences to Enhance Qualitative Health ResearchAli, S. H., Merdjanoff, A. A., Parekh, N., & DiClemente, R. J.
Journal titleQualitative Health Research
Page(s)571-580AbstractThere is a growing need to better capture comprehensive, nuanced, and multi-faceted qualitative data while also better engaging with participants in data collection, especially in virtual environments. This study describes the development of a novel 3-step approach to virtual mind-mapping that involves (1) ranked free-listing, (2) respondent-driven mind-mapping, and (3) interviewing to enhance both data collection and analysis of complex health behaviors. The method was employed in 32 virtual interviews as part of a study on eating behaviors among second-generation South Asian Americans. Participants noted the mind-mapping experience to be (1) helpful for visual learners, (2) helpful in elucidating new ideas and to structure thoughts, as well as (3) novel and interesting. They also noted some suggestions that included improving interpretability of visual data and avoiding repetition of certain discussion points. Data collection revealed the adaptability of the method, and the power of mind-maps to guide targeted, comprehensive discussions with participants.
Disasters, Displacement, and Housing Instability: Estimating Time to Stable Housing 13 Years after Hurricane KatrinaMerdjanoff, A. A., Abramson, D. M., Park, Y. S., & Piltch-Loeb, R.
Journal titleWeather, Climate, and Society
Page(s)535-550AbstractCatastrophic disasters disrupt the structural and social aspects of housing, which can lead to varying lengths of displacement and housing instability for affected residents. Stable housing is a critical aspect of postdisaster recovery, which makes it important to understand how much time passes before displaced residents are able to find stable housing. Using the Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study, a longitudinal cohort of Mississippi and Louisiana residents exposed to Hurricane Katrina (n = 1079), we describe patterns of stable housing by identifying protective and prohibitive factors that affect time to stable housing in the 13 years following the storm. Survival analyses reveal that median time to stable housing was 1082 days-over 3 years after Katrina. Age, housing tenure, marital status, income, and social support each independently affected time to stable housing. Findings suggest that postdisaster housing instability is similar to other forms of housing instability, including eviction, frequent moves, and homelessness.
Elevated serious psychological distress, economic disruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic in the nonmetropolitan American West
Mapping drivers of second-generation South Asian American eating behaviors using a novel integration of qualitative and social network analysis methodsAli, S. H., Gupta, S., Tariq, M., Penikalapati, R., Vasquez-Lopez, X., Auer, S., Hanif, C., Parekh, N., Merdjanoff, A. A., & DiClemente, R. J.
Journal titleEcology of Food and NutritionAbstractThis study explores a novel, mixed qualitative method to deconstruct the diet of second-generation South Asian Americans (SAAs). Online interviews of 32 second-generation SAAs were conducted usingintegrated free-listing and mind-mapping. Ranked free-lists were aggregated to identify salient drivers, while connections made within mind-maps were analyzed using social network analysis (SNA) methods. Overall, 34 distinct drivers and 247 unique connections were identified. Taste, family, and health had the highest adjusted rankings, while health displayed the strongest network centrality. Interventions aimed at second-generation SAA dietary behaviors may benefit from family-based or multi-level interventions, which consider the complex, unique dietary norms identified.
“Moving Forward”: Older Adult Motivations for Group-Based Physical Activity After Cancer TreatmentLynch, K. A., Merdjanoff, A., Wilson, D., Chiarello, L., Hay, J., & Mao, J. J.
Journal titleInternational Journal of Behavioral Medicine
Page(s)286-298AbstractBackground: Engagement in physical activity (PA) post-treatment can improve health outcomes and quality of life among cancer survivors. The purpose of this study is to explore United States (US) older adult cancer survivors’ (OACS) reasons for engaging in group-based PA classes, to identify themes supporting exercise motivations in the context of cancer recovery. Methods: OACS participating in a fitness program at a large US comprehensive cancer center completed semi-structured interviews. Transcripts were analyzed using modified grounded theory, and demographic data were analyzed descriptively. Results: Modified grounded theory analysis (n = 25; age M = 70.92, SD = 10.82; 9 cancer types) identified individual rationales for exercise grounded in collective experience. Participants’ internal motivations for PA are shaped by the desire for control over an uncertain future and post-treatment body, obtained by literally “moving forward” post-cancer; this is supported by external motivations for social connections that present a positive model of survivorship, within a setting that instills confidence and safety. Conclusions: Exercise can be a way for older adults to tap into internal and external motivations that support cancer survivorship. Interventions that make explicit connections between exercise and cancer recovery, facilitate interpersonal interaction, and promote a sense of safety may be the most effective. The concepts identified in this study can inform the development of future interventions to improve long-term behavior change among OACS and evaluate existing PA programs.
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 consequences
Examining the Dose–Response Relationship: Applying the Disaster Exposure Matrix to Understand the Mental Health Impacts of Hurricane SandyMerdjanoff, A. A., Abramson, D. M., Piltch-Loeb, R., Findley, P., Peek, L., Beedasy, J., Park, Y. S., Sury, J., & Meltzer, G. Y.
Journal titleClinical Social Work JournalAbstractDisaster exposure is a strong predictor of survivor mental health following large-scale disasters. However, there is continued debate regarding how disaster exposure should be measured and quantified, as well as whether specific types of disaster exposure are more likely to influence certain mental health outcomes like psychological distress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In this article, we propose the Disaster Exposure Matrix to explain how specific types and levels of disaster exposure are associated with particular mental health outcomes. We use data from the Sandy Child and Family Health study—an observational cohort study of 1000 randomly selected New Jersey residents who were living in the nine counties most-affected by Hurricane Sandy (2012)—to examine how direct and indirect disaster exposure at both the individual and community levels influence the likelihood of experiencing psychological distress and probable PTSD in the two years after Hurricane Sandy. Weighted logistic regression models demonstrate that particular measures of individual-level direct and indirect exposure uniquely influence probable PTSD and psychological distress, respectively. Community-level indirect exposure is significantly associated with psychological distress but not with probable PTSD. Findings highlight the importance of specificity when measuring the effects of disaster exposure on mental health, including separating exposures that occur at the individual and community level, as well as distinguishing those that are experienced directly from the event from those that are indirect and experienced after the meteorological or geophysical event has passed.
Impact of occupational exposure to COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of an essential workgroup: New York City transit workersGershon, R. R., Merdjanoff, A. A., Meltzer, G. Y., Piltch-Loeb, R., Rosen, J., Nwankwo, E. M., Medina, P., Vlahov, D., & Sherman, M. F.
Journal titleJournal of Emergency Management
Page(s)133-146AbstractBackground and purpose: Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City (NYC) vowed to “keep the subways running” despite the lack of plans in place for protecting the health and well-being of transit workers. This study was designed to assess the impact of employment during the early phase of the pandemic on this essential frontline workforce. Methods, settings, and study participants: A convenience sample of members (stratified by job title) of the NYC Transport Workers Union, Local 100, was recruited in August 2020 to participate in an anonymous, cross-sectional, internet-based survey. Results: The demographics of the sample participants (N = 645) reflected union membership, ie, 82 percent male, 29 percent Black; 27 percent Hispanic, and 59 percent ≥age 50 years. At the time of the “NYC Pause” (March 22, 2020) when mandatory stay-at-home orders were issued, transit workers had limited worksite protections. Many reported a lack of such basics as face masks (43 percent), hand sanitizer (40 percent), and disposable gloves (34 percent). A high proportion (87 percent) were concerned about getting infected at work. Lack of certain protections was significantly associated with both fear of contagion at work and mental health symptoms. Nearly 24 percent of participants reported a history of COVID-19 infection. Self-reported infection was significantly correlated with lack of certain protections, including respiratory masks (p < 0.001), disposable gloves (p < 0.001), and hand sanitizer (p < 0.001). Infection was also significantly associated with mental health symptoms (p < 0.001). By August 2020, despite participants reporting that many worksite protections were then in place, 72 percent of workers were still fearful for their safety at work, eg, because of potential exposure due to passengers not wearing masks, and risk of verbal abuse and physical assault by passengers angered when asked to wear face masks. Workers who were fearful for their safety at work were more than six times more likely to report mental health symptoms (p < 0.001). Conclusions: Lack of worksite protections before “NYC Pause” (March 22, 2020) was significantly associated with self-reported infection, fear, and mental health symptoms in TWU, Local 100 members. To reduce the risk of adverse impacts associated with bioevents in all essential work groups, and across all essential occupational settings, infection control preparedness, early recognition of risk, and implementation of tailored risk reduction strategies are imperative. Pandemic preparedness is fundamental to protecting the health and well-being of essential workers and crucial in controlling the spread of disease in the community. Bioevent preparedness for all essential frontline workgroups will also help reduce occupational health inequities. Workers at risk, regardless of setting, deserve and have the right to equal protections under federal and state law.
Scales and sensitivities in climate vulnerability, displacement, and health
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 Sandy
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 2016
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 personnel
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.