Is UH euthanizing
its school of health?
An accreditation panel suggestsBy Helen Altonn
UH brass are letting the school starve
The University of Hawaii administration seems to be allowing the school of public health to deteriorate so it can be closed, an accreditation committee suggests.
In a preliminary report after a recent site visit, the Council on Education for Public Health accreditation team noted impressive support for the school and a "potential groundswell of opposition" to closing it.
Yet, it said, "The prolonged neglect of the school and the unwillingness to invest even minimal resources in rebuilding may well seal the fate of the school in the absence of external intervening forces ... which are largely political in nature."
The team said UH President Kenneth Mortimer told them a decision about the school's future will be made in a week or months.
But, it said: "Action and inaction over the past six years would suggest that the most likely course will be to allow the school to wither away through continued attrition of faculty and other resources or to allow the loss of accreditation to tip the balance toward closure of the school.
"In either of these eventualities, the university administration will be able to attribute the causes elsewhere."
Mortimer hasn't authorized a search for a permanent dean for the school since 1992. Bill Wood, interim dean since 1995, said personnel has been cut 40 percent, and funding, 34 percent in six years.
A faculty of 30 in 1992 has dwindled to 17 full-time members, and admissions have been whittled to about 150 full-time equivalent students, with 28 in the doctoral program, because of reduced staffing, Wood said.
The school is receiving about $1.6 million in state funding and draws more than $1.5 million in outside money for research and training, he said.
It was put on a two-year probationary accreditation period in 1997 because the committee felt it didn't have the administration's support.
Battle is on to save schoolThe school isn't giving up without a fight, however.
Graduates and other supporters have mounted a strong campaign with the media and policy-makers to save the school.
Tom Driskill Jr., Hawaii Health Systems Corp. president and chief executive officer, says the school "has played a vital role in developing leaders who are now addressing key health issues for our state, nation and the Pacific Rim."
The school "provides a tremendous return on investment" for Hawaii's people, he said.
State Health Director Bruce Anderson, among the public health school's graduates, says it must be preserved along with the school of medicine to achieve the governor's vision of Hawaii as an Asia-Pacific center for health and wellness.
Anderson is working with Wood to develop an agreement for exchange of staff and students.
The agency would reinforce the school's teaching program, share laboratory training space for students, encourage new research avenues for faculty and students and take students as interns.
"It would give them a real-world perspective and assure a well-trained work force is coming out of the school," Anderson said. "On the other side, of course, we could use the help."
'We have enough problems'University Vice President Dean Smith said the administration is awaiting the outcome of the accreditation visit and accreditation commission meeting in June.
"Given the financial situation at the university, we simply haven't had the wherewithal to reinforce the school of public health to the expectations of the accrediting body," Smith said.
"We have enough problems just trying to keep the medical school without getting into the exact same situation, getting into a downward spiral comparable to the one that's hit public health."
Maternity program in dangerSmith said there have been discussions about merging the public health school with the medical school or another school if it loses accreditation and the university can't maintain it.
Charles Hardy, who retired after 18 years as a public health faculty member, was called back four years ago to help as an unpaid professor. "It's a labor of love that shouldn't be necessary," he said. "We should have competent younger faculty doing the work."
The school was allowed to recruit two faculty members last year, he said. "Having recruited them, we don't have enough to pay them."
He said the school is "under great pressure either to get accreditation or, which is more likely, to be thrown out on the street."
If the public health school merged with the medical school and was reduced to program status, Hardy said, it wouldn't be accredited and would lose all grants that depend upon an accredited school.
Among grants lost, Wood said, would be $400,000 coming in annually for a maternal and child health program.
"It totally provides backstop for all maternity and child health programs in the Pacific," he said.
A march and rally to urge policymakers to support the University of Hawaii's school of public health will be:
To show support
When: From noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday
Starts: At the Department of Health
Ends: At the state Capitol
Search resumesBy Helen Altonn
to find dean for
UH med school
The University of Hawaii has resumed its long search for a dean for the John A. Burns School of Medicine after a second candidate rejected the position.
In a letter to the university, Dr. Larry Shapiro, chief of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco medical school, wrote: "The school has been seriously underfunded for some time, and, as a consequence, the level of investment required now is large.
"I remain concerned about the near-term ability of the state, the university and the affiliated hospitals to commit the required resources."
Dr. Edwin Cadman, professor of medicine and an executive at Yale New Haven Hospital, had declined the position in January.
UH Vice President Dean Smith said Shapiro wrote that he has an exciting opportunity at his university because of its plans to build a new children's hospital.
Shapiro said he wants to be part of the building program, which he considers "an opportunity of a lifetime," Smith said.
"He sees a place that's growing with money on the table and compares it with a place where there's promise," Smith said. "Until there's money on the table, it's problematic."
The UH asked the Legislature for $45 million over five years - an amount Shapiro said is needed to build up the medical school, Smith said.
The item is still alive in the Senate, but it wasn't included in the House-passed budget.
Sherrel Hammar has been interim dean since December 1996, when Christian Gulbrandsen retired.