Friday, May 21, 1999

UH faculty
members praise
medical school

And commend the
work of interim dean
Sherrel Hammar

Mother: Research saved my daughter

By Helen Altonn


Despite the University of Hawaii medical school's image as a "troubled school," it isn't troubled internally, says pediatrics professor Marian Melish.

"Multiple years of cutbacks have been a problem but our morale is good," she said, crediting the leadership of interim dean Sherrel Hammar.

"Unlike what people are saying ... we are doing very well. We are harmonious. We know what our mission is and we are carrying it out admirably."

Melish said the school has had two accreditation team visits. "The students are excellent -- scoring above average in national tests -- and we are making substantial research contributions."

Faculty members say Hammar has done "a wonderful job" of stabilizing the school and bringing divisive faculty members together since becoming interim dean in December 1996 after Christian Gulbrandsen retired.

But Hammar has been informed that he's being replaced July 1. It isn't known who will replace him. UH President Kenneth Mortimer said he would not comment because it was a personnel matter.

Faculty members are urging the administration to keep Hammar on the job until a permanent dean is appointed. "Without a new candidate in mind, you don't dismiss a popular dean," said Melish.

The search for a permanent dean has been frustrated by concerns of leading mainland candidates about the stability of state and hospital support for the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Mortimer said last month that the medical school has an uncertain future because of universitywide money problems. He said closing the school would be among options examined if state funding wasn't increased.

Nonetheless, the Legislature provided no additional money for the school.

Melish, infection control medical director for Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, said, "If they let the medical school die, not only will the quality of medical care suffer, but we will lose money brought in for research."

The school brings in about $46 million annually in research grants.

Art Ushijima, president and chief executive officer of the Queen's Medical Center, said education and training of physicians is just one component of a medical school.

A strong research program also is important as "a vehicle by which you ultimately advance medicine and improve care, certainly for your own community and beyond your community," he said.

A member of the search committee for a new medical school dean, Ushijima said the directive was to try to attract a candidate with a strong research background who could bring other researchers here and build the program.

He said the medical school can be a significant resource in terms of attracting federal research grants and contributing to community health care and the state economy by spawning new industries.

"These positions entail bringing highly skilled, well-trained talent that commands high salaries and raises the standard of living," he said. The community somehow must "congeal support, not just for the medical school but the university as a whole."

It's difficult for hospitals to increase their support for the school -- totaling $30 million a year -- because of reduced Medicare and third-party reimbursements, Ushijima said.

"On the other hand, I don't think any of us would like to diminish that level if we could help it."

Fran Hallonquist, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, said the medical school has "tremendous economic and clinical value" and is essential to the community's well-being.

"The community should be concerned about what the level of medical care would be in the absence of a learning environment," she said. "I worry about my children and grandchildren. I want them to have the same level of care in Hawaii that citizens have on the mainland."

People can travel to another state for care on the mainland, she pointed out, "but we're here in the middle of the Pacific and have to rely on ourselves."

She said a teaching environment stimulates research and "elevates the standard of clinical excellence because it raises the bar on performance."

Mother: Research
saved daughter

Star-Bulletin staff


Fran Hallonquist appreciates the John A. Burns Medical School as a parent, as well as a health care professional.

"I have a 17-year-old daughter who wouldn't be here if not for the University of Hawaii faculty and research they were doing in use of a drug to stop preterm labor," she said.

Hallonquist, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, went into premature labor at 26 weeks in 1982.

She was employed at Kapiolani at the time and it was conducting national trials through the UH obstetrics and gynecology faculty on Tocolytic drugs to arrest uterine contractions in labor.

She had an opportunity to go on a drug trial and it stopped her preterm labor, she said. "Otherwise, I would have delivered at 26 weeks and it's unlikely that my daughter would have survived with the level of neonatal care then."

Kapiolani now has a maternal fetal intensive care unit and her daughter is "fantastic, healthy and thriving," Hallonquist said.

"Research makes a difference in the lives of people and research primarily comes from your academic medical environment. ... If we weren't an academic medical center, we would not be doing that research."

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