The University Record, October 31, 1994

Foote receives Distinguished Research Scientist Award

By Mary Jo Frank

Like most research scientists, Andrea Foote must produce a steady flow of grant applications to raise money for her research.

“I have to fund my own salary. I actually like it because it gives me the freedom to do what I want to do in the stable environment of the University,” explains Foote, who recently received this year’s prestigious Distinguished Research Scientist Award.

Foote directs the Worker Health Program, which is part of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations (ILIR).

Twice during her 22-year career at the U-M Foote has been between grants and had to take a leave of absence without pay while continuing to work on obtaining new grant support.

Philosophical about those payless periods, Foote observes, “People don’t tend to go into academics to make a lot of money. It’s a life I enjoy.”

Foote, who earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in sociology at the U-M, took a job here before finishing her dissertation.

“I got hooked on what I was doing,” says Foote, whose research interests have grown to include health care at the worksite, chronic disease control, the sociology of health care delivery systems, evaluation research and utilization of social science research.

Considered one of the pioneers of the employee assistance program (EAP) field, Foote’s groundbreaking research in the mid-1980s helped establish the outcomes of the field, according to Bradley Googins, director of the Center on Work and Family at Boston University.

“Much of her earlier work with data from the automobile industry constitutes benchmark research in the EAP field and it’s frequently cited in the most recent literature of developing models of managed care,” he added in his letter supporting Foote’s nomination.

Foote worked most of her career with her professional colleague and husband Jack Erfurt, a U-M social scientist who died in 1992. Together they published more than three dozen publications and seven monographs. “Jack and I jointly developed and directed the Worker Health Program. Without him, the program wouldn’t be what it is today,” Foote says.

Of the Distinguished Research Scientist Award, she says, “It is a joint honor with Jack. What we achieved, we achieved together and with other staff as well.”

Foote’s accomplishments have been significant, according to 11 individuals who contributed support letters to the nomination submitted by Lawrence S. Root, ILIR director and professor of social work.

Root wrote: “The Worker Health Program, which she directs at the institute, created an approach to applied research that is a model for “action-research”—the integration of systematic research designs with direct service interventions.

Successful action-research projects are difficult to mount because of the multiple demands placed on the research, he noted.

Foote developed a preventive health project with Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers, which called for screening employees in four plants for health risk factors and then engaging in regular follow-up to encourage behavioral changes to address risk, including controlling hypertension and reducing heart disease risk factors.

Once the program was designed, dozens of health care workers had to be hired and trained to carry out a uniform set of health-risk screening protocols. Eventually more than 10,000 Ford employees were screened; many received follow-up services to assist them in reducing the health risks that were identified.

Results were published in academic, business and health-related journals, including Business and Health, Journal of Occupational Medicine and New England Journal of Medicine.

Foote has developed similar action-research projects with General Motors and Detroit Edison, and has created new models of interventions to address the needs of employees in small businesses.

Lawrence says Foote’s work “has been at the forefront of knowledge development in preventive health in the workplace. Her research results appear in a wide range of peer-reviewed journals. This research has shaped the provision of services in the public and the private sectors. Her work has set the standard for creating effective health, mental health and substance abuse programs in the workplace.”

As part of her service to the Univer-sity, Foote has shared her expertise in confronting substance abuse problems through the University’s Task Force on Alcohol and Other Drugs. She successfully applied for outside funding to conduct a survey of alcohol and drug use in the University and directed all aspects of this 4,500-respondent study of students, faculty and staff.

Her analysis of the responses has provided baseline data for understanding the nature and extent of alcohol and other drug use and offers a basis for planning interventions to address the problems that were identified, Root notes.

Foote is also a member of the U-M Substance Abuse Center steering committee.

When Foote is not working on her research, she sings. “It’s the only thing that gets me out of the office,” says Foote, an alto and member of the Choral Union for the past 15 years.

She enjoys singing the large oratorios favored by the Choral Union and recently participated in Choral Union performances with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.