In my research I use both demographic and qualitative methods to study how health and social policy replicate, worsen, or alleviate health inequities across the life course.


In my published work I have collaborated with scholars and practitioners to explore topics related to health and aging across disciplines. I worked on a team to evaluate the impact of a palliative care program (Kaufman et al. 2020) and later conducted interviews and analyzed qualitative data to ascertain how changes to WIC policy during the COVID-19 pandemic affected recipients (Barnes & Petry 2021). I have contributed two timely and pressing commentaries to reputable academic journals. The first addresses the epidemic of grief we are living through alongside the COVID-19 pandemic (Petry, Hughes, & Galanos 2021). The second describes the population of older adults serving as caregivers to their loved ones, in which we outline policies that could support these essential health care workers (Petry, Lara, & Boucher 2022).

Dissertation: Policy and the Life Course

I focus my dissertation work on Medicaid policy, health inequities, and late life health and care needs. Because Medicaid is means-tested, this program offers a unique policy to explore the interconnected consequences of socioeconomic status, health, and other forms of marginalization in late life.

My first chapter, “Experiences Gaining Access to Medicaid in Older Adulthood: A North Carolina Case Study”, is a qualitative study, exploring how older adults become eligible for and apply for Medicaid. I conduct qualitative interviews with caregivers of older adults in long-term care (LTC) setting, as well as staff, to describe this process. I develop several hypotheses that I then test with a large dataset, the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS). In this chapter, “Life Course Predictors of Medicaid Enrollment”, I assess sociodemographic and health-related predictors of Medicaid enrollment after age 50. In the final chapter, “Transitions, Deficit Accumulation, and Medicaid’s Role at the End of Life”, I use restricted data from the HRS to study when transitions in care setting and insurance status occur. I determine how long adults over 65 can expect to live in various care states and degrees of frailty before they die.

Future Directions

My dissertation answers many pressing questions about Medicaid policy, health, and late-life service use. However, it also presents additional directions for research. Medicaid coverage has become an increasingly relevant component of the social safety net in the US as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted racial and class health disparities. Understanding the shifting role of LTC as more people chose to care for loved ones at home during the pandemic is critical and ensuring that older adults are able to access quality health care as they age and die remains a pressing topic. I intend to continue using mixed methods approaches, combining qualitative studies with large, demographic ones to study the impacts that policies have on people, both individually, and at the population-level.