New Year’s blog

It’s been a very good year; it’s been an awful year.  Next year has to be better. It’s been a year of many contradictions; researchers, in general, have benefited from stimulus dollars. But declines in state funds have left many universities and the people who work for them suffering. Ours is no exception, but we have fared better than many states.

Good year

More grants

In spite of a horrible economy, our faculty members competed successfully for funds from NIH, CDC and other agencies. In the past year, our grant support increased 44%.

Marci Campbell, PhD Professor, Nutrition, was awarded a National Institutes of Health Challenge Grant; only 2% of applicants were successful. Even more important for North Carolinians, Dr. Campbell’s project aims to improve health behaviors among people in eastern North Carolina. Among other strategies, she’ll be using micro-credit to help bolster people’s lives. This is one example of many exciting projects awarded to faculty across the School. The real point of all of this, of course, is not only to win grants but to improve health.

Grace under pressure

Our faculty and staff have adapted to challenging budget reductions with grace and a can-do attitude. I wish we could do more for them.

It seems like every day I have a conversation like the one I had recently with a fellow professor, checking into the Wellness Center. “Hi, how are you?” I asked him. “Great,” he said. I commented that his work seemed to be going well; he’d gotten several big grants and a lot of recognition for his research. He did not talk about his work as might have happened a couple years ago. Instead, he said, “I’m so glad to be working.” This was from a very senior, distinguished professor. I am grateful too. Wherever I go, from our wonderful maintenance staff to our star professors, we are grateful to be working.

Health reform

It really looks like health reform will pass. No one will love the final plan, but it will be more than an incremental improvement if the outcome of Senate and House deliberations goes as predicted. Covering an additional 31 million people is a major advance for health equity. It probably won’t do enough for prevention. People who wanted a single payer will be disappointed. And there aren’t likely to be enough measures for controlling costs. But it will be a big step.  Check out these.

Bad Year

Budget cuts

It was a terrible year. We had deep budget cuts that shook but did not topple our infrastructure. In the School, we have laid off some staff – painfully for us and even more so for them. With 10% unemployment in the U.S., there’s hardly a person who has not been touched, a family that has not felt the sting of layoffs.

I know someone who worked for a company many years and recently was laid off, I thought about how the closure that is often present when one leaves a job is denied in most layoffs – no goodbye party, no speeches, no public parting words about the person’s contributions, no gifts, and, often, apparently, no thanks for years of good, maybe great, work and no health insurance. It’s a violation of the way most of us were brought up to think about our relationship to work – that good work and loyalty beget loyalty. I hope we’re near the end of this. For every person who was laid off, thank you for all your efforts.

The Wall Street Journal 12/29 had an interesting article about how the Netherlands is dealing with the recession by allowing some companies to reduce workers’ hours to 85% instead of laying people off. Their unemployment rate is 3.7% vs. ours at over 10%. It’s an interesting idea.

Next year

As 2010 approaches, I wish everyone good holidays, good cheer and good health. Among us are those who have lost family, friends and partners to illness and accidents. My thoughts are with you. Others are battling serious illnesses. We wish you good health in 2010.

Public health’s importance will continue to increase in the next decade. This School will be on the front lines in training the next generation of public health leaders, fighting obesity, preparing the country for infections and natural disasters, getting clean water to people everywhere, developing better health policies, and so much more.

A public health equation for better health.


Happy new year! Warmly, Barbara

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