CAIRHE mapThe locations of CAIRHE's research and engagement efforts, shown as red dots, continue to expand across Montana. (Map by Kristen Drumheller)


“Health disparities are real.

The evidence base is large and irrefutable. As such, the time is now to shift the research emphasis away from solely documenting the pervasiveness of the health disparities problem and begin focusing on health equity, the highest level of health possible. The focus on health equity research will require investigators to propose projects that develop and evaluate evidence-based solutions to health differences that are driven largely by social, economic, and environmental factors.”

Shobha Srinivasan, Ph.D., and Shanita D. Williams, Ph.D., MPH, APRN
"Transitioning from Health Disparities to a Health Equity Research Agenda: The Time Is Now"
Public Health Reports, Jan.-Feb. 2014; 129 (Suppl 2): 71–76.

Based at Montana State University, the Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity (CAIRHE) (“Care”) is an official State of Montana research center designated by the Montana University System Board of Regents.

CAIRHE's mission is to reduce significant health disparities in tribal and non-tribal rural communities through community-based participatory research (CBPR) that is considerate of and consistent with their cultural beliefs. CAIRHE serves the people of Montana as a robust, interdisciplinary research center with strong engagement in communities across the state (see map above). Using proven CBPR methods, the Center and its investigators conduct groundbreaking health equity research and interventions that make a profound, sustainable difference in the lives of Montanans.

According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), 53 percent of the state’s population lives in rural or frontier areas characterized by a lack of essential services, including health care. Most Montana counties are designated as “medically underserved.” Among American Indian residents in particular, the age-adjusted mortality rate is 60 percent higher than the rate for other residents. In addition, mortality rates are considerably higher for American Indian residents for individual causes of death, including cardiovascular disease (+37%), cancer (+29%), respiratory disease (+58%), vehicle injury (+140%), and suicide (+40%). The statistics are equally astonishing for virtually any measure of public health.

To achieve its mission of reducing these disparities in rural areas, CAIRHE has four specific aims:

  1. Develop the research, engagement, and administrative infrastructure for an effective and sustainable center with a strong presence in all areas of Montana.

  2. Develop a critical mass of health equity researchers in Montana by training young investigators in health equity research and by hiring investigators with expertise in health equity research.

  3. Investigate and subsequently understand the etiology of diseases that cause health disparities and rationally develop interventions that are both efficacious and consistent with and respectful of cultural beliefs.

  4. Develop the ability of CAIRHE investigators to take interdisciplinary approaches in mitigating health disparities in rural Montana.

CAIRHE is supported by a Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (grant number 5P20GM104417). CAIRHE was formerly known as the Center for Health Equity in Rural Montana (CHERM), founded in 2014. Read the MSU press release.