Saturday, May 22, 1999

Isle congressmen
lean on Mortimer

UH's School of Public Health
has allies in Mink, Inouye
and Abercrombie

By Helen Altonn


Hawaii's congressional delegates have added their weight to an outpouring of support from graduates and health officials for retention of the University of Hawaii School of Public Health.

The school, on probation for two years, expects to lose its accreditation next month unless UH President Kenneth Mortimer takes some steps to save it.

He has yet to sign an agreement proposed between the state Department of Health and the school for a collaborative relationship that could alleviate some accreditation concerns.

Mortimer has said the financially troubled university doesn't have the resources to support the school. He favors making public health instruction a program in the medical school.

Some public health students and faculty will begin a weeklong hunger strike Monday outside Mortimer's office in Bachman Hall to encourage him to act to regain accreditation.

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and U.S. Reps. Patsy T. Mink and Neil Abercrombie urged Mortimer in recent letters to do everything possible to support the School of Public Health.

Recalling his involvement in the school's establishment about 35 years ago, Inouye said: "I have watched the progress of this most valuable institution over these many years and have been proud to have been a supporter of its well-recognized contributions to Hawaii's health enhancement and that of Asia and the Pacific Basin.

"The legacy of your administration should include the continuation of that progress to benefit Hawaii and not the record of being the first university to close a School of Public Health."

Lack of school 'intolerable'

Inouye said the Health Department's offer of part-time faculty members from its staff "deserves not only support, but also commendation."

Mink wrote, "The notion that our 'world class' university could be without a School of Public Health is intolerable."

She urged Mortimer to support the DOH's proposed partnership and a proposal by the school's interim dean, William Wood, regarding other resources and continued probation.

Mink said the school "is an extremely valuable health training facility for our community as well as to the U.S. and all Pacific Rim countries ... I personally cannot conceive of our public health needs being served by staff trained on the mainland."

Mink said the school's loss "will be a devastating blow to the reputation of our university in terms of its ability to meet the unique needs of our culturally diverse population."

Abercrombie also stressed the importance of an accredited public health school "to assure the continual stream of public health professionals for our community."

He said Mortimer's office should approve the agreement, which explores new ways the school and state can link missions to improve public health education and practice. In another innovative approach to solve its resource problems, he pointed out, the school has formed agreements for cooperative graduate faculty from other UH units.

'Grave consequences'

He said the school also has been working with him to find federal funding resources. He has a community Health Advisory Group that has identified more than $65 million in untapped health sector funding, he said.

A two-time UH graduate, Abercrombie said, "My concern is that either no decision or a rash decision will be made now that will have grave consequences for Hawaii in the future."

"An essential component of Hawaii's health system is in jeopardy ... Still the logical decision to support the school has not been made ... I cannot urge you strongly enough to do what is necessary to assure that Hawaii maintains an accredited School of Public Health."

Wood said Thursday that attorneys had approved the agreement with the Health Department and that the university administration has had it for two weeks. Mortimer said it is still with attorneys.

A mutual benefit relationship would begin June 1 under the proposed five-year agreement.

It calls for an advisory committee to assure continuing cooperation and adherence to academic and professional practices and to provide advice. It would have six members: two from the school, two appointed by the president and two named by the state health director.

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