New study criticizes
isle public health woes

UH comes under fire for shutting
down its health school in 1999

A six-year study of health care in all 50 states concluded that Hawaii is lagging in the field of public health because of the closure of the UH School of Public Health in 1999 and the failure to revive it.

The new study, which says nationally the health care system is deteriorating because of "a fiscal crisis," was part of the Government Performance Project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It is reported in the February issue of Governing magazine.

University of Hawaii-Manoa Chancellor Peter Englert said he is "a little bit astonished" by the report criticizing the state for not re-establishing a school of public health.

"These people have no idea what is going on right now," Englert said, describing plans to create a UH center of global and public health.

The university's supplemental budget to the Legislature proposes $1 million to build up staff to cover all aspects envisioned for the center, he said, including training, meeting public and community needs, research, homeland security and bioterrorism.

The study notes that nationally the health care system is deteriorating because of "a fiscal crisis," despite great strides in medicine. "Americans are living with first-rate medicine and a third-rate health care system," it says. "And the problem is getting worse instead of better."

The report praises the state's 1974 Prepaid Health Care Act, the only one of its kind in the nation requiring businesses to offer health insurance to employees working more than 20 hours a week.

But UH allowed the School of Public Health to flounder while other states were developing such schools to meet public-health labor shortages, the report said.

Some programs from the defunct school were placed in a department in the John A. Burns School of Medicine while efforts were made to re-establish a separate public health school, the report said.

DeWolfe Miller, professor of epidemiology and leader of the UH public health department, said, "We pretty rapidly built an accredited graduate program in public health."

Within two years, master's degree programs were accredited in epidemiology and social and behavioral sciences with a faculty strong in research, he said.

They are bringing in about $4 million a year in outside funding in addition to $1.44 million from the state, Miller said. About 50 people have been hired with the funding, he said, "but our growth right now is pushed right to the edge of what is possible without any further support from the state."

Englert said he has had a series of meetings with faculty, School of Public Health alumni, community representatives and others to discuss "a paradigm shift in public health" since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The consensus at a workshop in August was that UH "should initiate an accelerated process to establish a center for global and public health, which means bringing a school of public health back on line," he said.

Englert said he has also had discussions with Jong-Wook Lee, 1981 UH public health graduate, now director general of the World Health Organization, who "sees an opportunity, like myself, that the global and public health environment we create here at UH may have significant importance for WHO."

University of Hawaii


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