Robyn R.M. Gershon, MHS, DrPH

Primary Investigator 

Robyn Gershon is a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.  Prior to this appointment, Dr. Gershon was a Professor of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City (NYC), with a joint appointment in Columbia University's School of Nursing. Dr. Gershon is a multidisciplinary occupational and environmental health and safety researcher with 20 years of experience in conducting complex, large scale, multi-method research studies.Dr. Gershon also has extensive research and content experience in the areas of disaster preparedness, home health care, and behavioral and social science research.

Dr. Gershon recently completed a Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded study entitled “Healthy Homes, Healthy Seniors,” where she focused on household hazards in the home healthcare sector.  In 2009, Gershon conducted and published the first study on disaster preparedness of home health care paraprofessionals. This paper entitled “Emergency Preparedness in a Sample of Persons with Disabilities” (Gershon, RRM; Kraus, L; Raveis, V; Sherman, M; Kailes, J), reports on the findings from a preparedness survey of a national sample of 253 primarily senior adults living with one or more disabilities.  The results from this work, and more than a decade of working in the area of home health care, convinced Dr. Gershon that lack of preparedness is highly prevalent in this setting

In 2011, Dr. Gershon moved to UCSF as part of a two-career move. While retaining her strong ties to the New York City disaster community, she is forging new ones in the San Francisco Bay area. This will allow her to compare and contrast preparedness in these two high-risk cities.  In addition to content expertise, Dr. Gershon has extensive experience with the conduct of qualitative research and has published the results of numerous qualitative studies. She also has a very strong track record of project leadership on complex, often multi-site, projects as well as dissemination of findings.

Currently, Dr. Gershon is the primary investigator for a study that seeks to examine the preparedness of the death care sector for managing mass fatalities.  She is also working on a complex four-year intervention study (BRIDGEProject) that aims to predict students’ motivation and persistence in pursuing science research careers.

See Dr. Gershon’s complete profile here: http://healthpolicy.ucsf.edu/people/robyn-gershon


Elena Portacolone, MPH, MBA, PhD

Co-Primary Investigator 

Elena Portacolone is a social gerontologist with extensive research and content experience in the area of long-term care, home health care, the experience of living alone, and behavioral and social science research.  As an Assistant Professor at the Mack Center on Mental Health and Social Conflict at the University of California in Berkeley, her research has focused on policies and programs that allow older adults to remain in their community as they age.

In 2004, Dr. Portacolone began an assessment of alternatives to nursing homes such as the Program for All Care for the Elderly (PACE) and the Eden Alternative.  She conducted her first ethnographic fieldwork in the San Francisco Bay Area and collaborated with several organizations: two PACE programs (On Lok and the Center for Elders’ Independence), and the Over 60 Health Center funded by the Gray Panthers in the 70s.

In 2007, Dr. Portacolone moved her attention towards the experience of living alone in older age and later worked as a research assistant for Eric Klinenberg for his book Going Solo.  The lessons she learned while working with Klinenberg allowed her to gather rich data for her dissertation thesis.  Drawing from her extensive training in ethnographic methods, she gathered data through participant observation and semi-structured interviews.  She interviewed 47 San Franciscans over 75 living alone from different ethno-racial groups, sexual orientations, and neighborhoods.  To do so, she collaborated with the Department of Aging and Adult Services, Meals on Wheels, In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority, Senior Action Network, Institute of Aging, Curry Senior Center, Bernal Heights Senior Center, Bayview Adult Day Health Center, the LGBT Community Center, Prime Timers, Older Lesbians Organized for Change, Centro Latino, and the Community Living Campaign.

Grounded theory was used to create a theory of precariousness. Dr. Portacolone recently wrote two papers on her findings. The first paper entitled “Living Alone in Older Age: An Ethnography” was submitted to Ethnography. The second paper entitled “The Notion of Precariousness among Older Adults Living Alone in the U.S.” was submitted to the Journal of Aging Studies.   

Dr. Portacolone is committed to using her research to increase awareness on the challenges that may prevent individuals from being socially integrated in their communities. She also has experience with fieldwork in areas with high crime.


Ezinne Nwankwo, MPH

Project Coordinator


Ezinne Nwankwo is the Project Coordinator for the Emergency Preparedness in Home Care Study at UCSF.  After completing her undergraduate coursework in Health Education at San Francisco State University, Ezinne went on to complete her Masters in Public Health at University of Michigan.  While at University of Michigan, Ezinne’s primary focus was on gaining a critical understanding of the ways behavioral, environmental, structural and cultural factors influence the health outcomes of marginalized groups and communities of color.  In her respective roles as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA), Ezinne explored the use of mobile devices as a potential means of reducing racial disparities in chronic disease management and also worked to examine how chronic diseases influence African American men’s conceptions of masculinity.  Ezinne aspires to translate research into effective, innovative, socially relevant and culturally competent health programs for marginalized communities.