School of public health, human sciences proposed by OSU, OHSU, PSU

Tom Eversole, director of strategic planning for Health and Human Sciences, explains OSU's lead role in what could be a collaborative effort to establish a college of public health in Oregon. (photo: Angela Yeager)

Tom Eversole, director of strategic planning for Health and Human Sciences, explains OSU's lead role in what could be a collaborative effort to establish a school of public health in Oregon. (photo: Angela Yeager)

For the past year, leaders in the OSU College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) and at other Oregon universities have been exploring the potential of developing a new academic  entity: an accredited school or college of public health. The new school would be the only such institution in the state of Oregon.

That proposal is now moving forward under the leadership of Tom Eversole, hired last summer as director of Strategic Development for a College of Public Health & Human Sciences. Eversole says that the proposed school ideally would be collaborative, including Oregon Health and Sciences University and Portland State University as partners. Both universities already join forces with OSU in a nationally recognized masters of public health degree program.

For OSU, the potential new college would result in an expansion of graduate programs and a new ability to compete nationally for research funding only available to accredited schools or colleges of public health, organizers say. OSU already has faculty in the areas required by the Council on Education for Public Health for accreditation. It awards masters degrees in three and offers the only Ph.D. programs in public health in the state.

“We are in a position to provide the leadership needed to achieve accredited school status at all three universities,” said Tammy Bray, HHS dean. “We are in frequent consultation with our colleagues at OHSU and PSU as we begin the development process. They are important partners in this project and have been very helpful in shaping the initial conversation among a variety of stakeholders.”

Start up costs for the new college initially would come from vacant academic lines within the Department of Public Health at OSU. The department is filling vacancies across HHS in ways that align with staffing requirements for accreditation. Future investments will be necessary at all three participating institutions.

It is expected, however, that heightened ability to pursue research grants, service contracts and foundation funding will provide a considerable return on investment of public funds. “The new school will allow us to build and support the academically trained workforce Oregon needs to address the public health challenges of tomorrow. It is an important investment in the health of the next generation of Oregonians,” Eversole said. For more specifics on the public health proposal, see answers to an FAQ list posted here.

According to the 2008 survey of local health departments by the Coalition of Local Health Officials, health departments statewide were assessed as having only 57 percent of the required capacity as measured using national standards by the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO.)  The greatest gaps were in public health policy development, program evaluation and research.  These are some of the gaps the new school will be designed to fill.

Eversole led a discussion last week on creation of the school of as part of the Oregon Public Health Conference, held on the OSU campus. Eversole outlined specific needs for such a school and the way the school might be structured. Health researchers and professionals from around Oregon were enthusiastic about the proposal, chiming in with ideas on how the school might look.

“Oregonians expect and deserve a robust, world-class public health system,” Eversole said. “We need a coordinated effort among public health academicians, practitioners and government agencies to make that happen.”

Eversole told participants that nationally nearly one-quarter of the  public health workforce is close to retirement. In order to meet employment demands, three times as many public health graduates will be needed annually during the next 12 years.

Conference participants had thoughts on the school’s academic focus. One person wanted to see occupational public health emphasized; another said internships for students must be a strong component. Many affirmed the collaborative nature of the school, not only for OSU, PSU and OHSU, but for government agencies, professional associations and public health practitioners that must be part of the program.

Dr. James Gaudino, a medical epidemiologist with the state Department of Human Services in Portland, said he received his medical training in California. When he moved to Oregon, he said he was shocked to find there wasn’t an accredited school of public health. Oregon, in fact, is the only West Coast state without such a school.

“There’s a big gap and it needs to be filled,” he said. “I’m part of a group trying to work on getting an accredited maternal health program in the state. When we applied for grants, we were told all grants had to be directed to an accredited school. I only see a benefit to Oregon having this.”

Under the proposal, an application for accreditation would be submitted by fall 2011. A two-year self study would follow, and accreditation could be awarded as early as 2014.

~ by Todd Simmons

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