Understanding the Issue

Moderated by David Leventhal

We began this series by identifying what health disparities look like in the Parkinson’s community. Our expert panelists, who have extensive experience in research, medical care, hospital management, community outreach, and community programming, helped define the problem and share their experiences to help us root our understanding and identify future actions.

In this webinar, our panel discussed:

  • The definition of health disparities
  • The personal and professional experiences that led them to do this work
  • Their experience observing and then implementing efforts that have shown promise to change this issue
  • Their call to action for all of us – where they see the most urgent needs and when, where, and how we can help bring about change

Panelists: Nabila Dahodwala, MDJonathan Jackson, PhDNicte Mejia, MD, MPHClaudia Martinez, MDAltaf Saadi, MD MSc

Moderator: David Leventhal


Nabila Dahodwala, MD, MS

Nabila Dahodwala, MD, MS is an Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a Senior fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, Institute of Aging fellow and Director of the Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence at Penn. Dr. Dahodwala’s research interests involve access to care; disease prevention and health promotion; disparities and health equity; and global health and risk communication. She leads a number of projects that study patient, physician and health system-level barriers to high-quality care for individuals with neurodegenerative diseases. She has received research funding from the NIH, VA, Michael J Fox Foundation, Parkinson Foundation and the Parkinson Council. She is also the site investigator for numerous industry-sponsored clinical trials testing new therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease and Essential Tremor. She serves as the chair of the American Neurological Association’s Health Services Research Special Interest Group, and is a member of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorders Society’s Integrated Care Taskforce, the Parkinson Foundation Parkinson Outcomes Project Steering Committee and the Michael J Fox Foundation’s Fox Insight Executive Steering Committee. In addition to her research and clinical activities, Dr. Dahodwala is the Movement Disorders Fellowship Director at the University of Pennsylvania and directs the Patient-Oriented Research Curriculum for the neurology residents.

Jonathan Jackson, PhD

Jonathan Jackson, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Community Access, Recruitment, and Engagement (CARE) Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. CARE investigates the impact of diversity and inclusion on the quality of human subjects research and leverages deep community entrenchment to build trust and overcome barriers to clinical trial participation. His research focuses on midlife and late-life health disparities in clinical settings that affect underserved populations. Dr. Jackson also works as a cognitive neuroscientist, investigating the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in the absence of overt memory problems. He has become a well-known representative to underserved communities and dozens of affiliated organizations, particularly regarding participation in clinical research. Dr. Jackson serves on the leadership team of several organizations focused on community health, and has written guidance for local, statewide, and national groups on research access, engagement, and recruitment.


Born in Guatemala and raised in Mexico, Dr. Mejia graduated medical school with honors from the Monterrey Institute of Technology. After conducting clinical research in movement disorders at Baylor College of Medicine, she trained at MGH/BWH/Harvard, completing a Medicine internship, Neurology residency, Movement Disorders fellowship, Master degree of Public Health, postdoctoral fellowships in Neurostatistics & Neuroepidemiology and Mental Health Policy, and the Physician Leadership Development Certificate Program. Dr. Mejia also graduated the Disparities Solutions Center Disparities Leadership Program, YW Boston LeadBoston Executive Leadership Program, Partnership BioDiversity Fellowship Program, and American Academy of Neurology Diversity Leadership Program.

Dr. Mejia works to advance equity through patient care, research, education, and administration. She leads the MGH Neurology Community Health Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, directs the MGH Youth Neurology Education and Research Program, is editor of the Neurology journal specialty site on equity, diversity, and inclusion, and serves as member of the Board of Directors of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. Her work has been recognized with the HMS Harold Amos Faculty Diversity, Boston YMCA Achievers, Dominican Medical College New England & Hispanic Health Professionals Association Outstanding Healthcare Professional, MGH Service Excellence Leadership Honorable Mention, MGH Ernesto Gonzalez, HMS Scholars in Medicine Excellence in Student Mentoring, and the AAN AB Baker Teacher Recognition awards.

Claudia Martinez, MD

Claudia Martinez graduated and worked as a primary care physician in Colombia. After she moved to Arizona she completed a graduate certificate in gerontology at Arizona State University, and in 2007 she was hired by the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Centerto start their Hispanic Outreach Program. During the following 15 years she developed a comprehensive and culturally sensitive program for Hispanics living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and their families that is the largest in the country.

Claudia is passionate about building collaborations, sharing resources, and empowering the underserved Hispanic PD community. In the last 7 years she delivered a series of successful webinars and conferences that fostered the development of an international network for the Spanish speaking PD community. In 2020 and 2021 she delivered 2 national conferences to share her knowledge with leaders committed to serve the Hispanic PD community in the USA.

Altaf Saadi, MD, MSc

Altaf Saadi, MD, MSc is a general academic neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. She is also associate director of the MGH Asylum Clinic. Her research is focused on health disparities and social and structural determinants of health among racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, and refugees.

Dr. Saadi completed her neurology training at the Partners Neurology Program at MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where she also served as chief resident. During her residency, Dr. Saadi’s interest in health equity led her to work in resource-limited settings in the Navajo Nation, Tanzania, Zambia, with Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, and with the Doctors Without Borders telemedicine program.

Her research training includes a fellowship with the National Clinician Scholars Program at UCLA, where she conducted several health services research projects and received a master’s degree in health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. One of her projects focused on understanding how hospitals and health care facilities can ensure that all patients feel safe when accessing health care, regardless of their immigration status, exploring the concept of “sanctuary” and “safe spaces” in the clinical setting.


David Leventhal 

David Leventhal is a founding teacher and Program Director for Dance for PD®, a program of the Mark Morris Dance Group that has now been used as a model for classes in more than 300 communities in 25 countries. He leads classes for people with Parkinson’s disease around the world, trains other teachers in the Dance for PD® approach, and is a valued member of our Board of Directors.