Public health research, programs focus of visit to UNC-Chapel Hill by NC’s legislative leaders

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For immediate release: Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

Legislators at UNC Gillings 010814

Legislators at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Improving water access during droughts, timely, effective care for stroke victims and strategies to keep rural hospitals open and financially solvent were only some of the topics discussed with legislative leaders at an informational session held at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health on Jan. 8.


Presentations showcased recent research conducted by UNC Gillings School faculty members and students designed to address urgent and ongoing public health issues in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.


The event included a tour of the Gillings School’s facilities and remarks by University of North Carolina President Thomas W. Ross, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, PhD, and UNC Gillings School’s Dean Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH.


Nearly two dozen leaders from the North Carolina Senate and House of Representatives attended the session. Presentations included:


Research at UNC-Chapel Hill and its impact on North Carolina. Don Hobart, JD, UNC’s associate vice chancellor of research, described that UNC generates $884 million annually in research and development spending in the state’s economy, with 90 percent of the funding coming from outside North Carolina. Hobart also detailed how UNC-Chapel Hill research efforts employ more than 4,000 people in 80 state counties, support contracts with 1,100 vendors and has led to the development of 81 new companies.


An overview of the Gillings School of Global Public Health.  Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1  public school of public health in the U.S., UNC’s Gillings School is also ranked No. 2 overall. Dean Rimer mentioned that UNC Gillings garnered $154 million in grants during the last fiscal year and that 60 percent of the school’s graduates remain in North Carolina after receiving their degrees. She also emphasized that the School does work in all 100 North Carolina counties, and that UNC Gillings faculty and students are practical idealists predicated on problem-solving urgent public health issues across the state and around the world. Along with introducing research that would be discussed, she mentioned UNC Gillings’ outstanding work in fighting obesity, cancer and infectious diseases, as well as providing leadership in disaster management.


Protecting municipal water supplies in North Carolina, especially during droughts. Gregory Characklis, PhD, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School and director of the Center for Watershed Science and Management in UNC’s Institute for the Environment, discussed innovative programs he has pioneered with North Carolina water utilities that facilitate management and sharing of water resources in the state during times of need. Characklis showed how, through proactive planning, utilities can collaborate to move water effectively and relatively cheaply to areas of need, even during the worst droughts.


Serving North Carolina’s military families. Combat troop deployments lead to added stress in the lives of North Carolina’s more than 110,000 military families. Sandra Martin, PhD, associate dean for research and professor of maternal and child health at the Gillings School, conducted research with colleagues at RTI and found that these deployments can produce increases in child abuse. Their work the U.S. Army led to new Army policies nationwide that help address and mitigate these threats. Martin and colleague Rebecca Macy at the UNC School of Social Work will soon be working with the U.S. Air Force on a new project to enhance the well-being of service members.


Strengthening the financial health of rural North Carolina hospitals. When a rural hospital closes, the communities it served face serious health care and economic burdens. Mark Holmes, PhD, associate professor of health policy and management, described the work he, George Pink, PhD, Humana Distinguished Professor, health policy and management, and colleagues do with rural hospitals in the state to help them become more financially viable, especially in tough economic times. This federally-funded research helps identify areas for improvement and greater efficiency, and draws on lessons learned by other small hospitals across the state and nation.


Improving stroke care across North Carolina: The North Carolina Stroke Care Collaborative. North Carolina is part of the nation’s “stroke belt,” a region of the U.S. with exceptionally high rates of stroke mortality. Research and programs led by Wayne Rosamond, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and his colleagues, have led to dramatic improvements in the quality of stroke diagnosis and treatment in North Carolina hospitals that have opted to participate in the Collaborative. Rosamond noted that this success came about partly through direct support from the North Carolina legislature and the people of the state.


Project Lazarus: Ending the North Carolina prescription drug overdose epidemic. Project Lazarus a drug prevention program was co-created just over five years ago by Nabarun Dasgupta, PhD, a 2013 graduate of the Gillings School’s Department of Epidemiology. North Carolina counties claiming some of the highest prescription drug overdose rates in the U.S. were transformed through Dasgupta’s efforts and now have among the lowest rates of overdose in the country. The program developed by Dasgupta and colleagues brings together resources and specialists already available in the communities and enables them to work more effectively and collaboratively. Project Lazarus was cited recently by the White House as a model for drug prevention programs nationwide and is currently being adapted for use by several other states.


Legislative leaders attending the event had opportunity to ask questions and interact with the presenters, other UNC Gillings researchers, President Ross, Chancellor Folt and Dean Rimer.


The event was moderated by Don Holzworth, MS, Executive in Residence and adjunct professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School, and facilitated by Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, Professor of the Practice of health policy and management.


Attendees included:

  • Sen. Tamara Barringer (R-Wake)
  • Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke)
  • Rep. William Brisson (D-Bladen, Johnston, Sampson)
  • Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery)
  • Rep. Jim Fulghum, MD (R-Wake)
  • Rep. Rosa Gill (D-Wake)
  • Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland)
  • Sen. Fletcher Hartsell Jr. (R-Cabarrus)
  • Rep. D. Craig Horn (R-Union)
  • Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange)
  • Rep. Tom Murry (R-Wake)
  • Sen. Louis Pate (R-Wayne, Lenoir, Pitt)
  • Rep. Bobbie Richardson (D-Franklin, Nash)
  • Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake)
  • Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake)
  • Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham, Caswell, Person)


Also in attendance:

  • Brandon Greife, health care policy adviser to Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate;
  • Kristi Huff, health and human resources senior policy adviser to Sen. Berger; and
  • Sarah Riser, health and human services policy adviser to Rep. Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives



Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, 919-962-2600,,