Shalala: Great universities can help solve the health challenges of the future

Former university president, cabinet secretary spoke about the value of partnerships at Community Engagement Conference

By: Chris Booker

Published on January 25, 2018

Donna Shalala, the former secretary of Health and Human Services, said the nation’s great universities are vital to solving some of the world’s most complex and challenging problems.

“I am a huge fan of the great universities of this country,” she said.

Shalala spoke Wednesday at the Ohio Union as the guest for the Provost’s Discovery Themes Lecture. Her conversation closed out the first day of The Ohio State University’s inaugural Community Engagement Conference. NBC4 anchor Colleen Marshall moderated the discussion.

The conference focused on the theme of partnering to improve community health and wellness. Shalala’s resume illustrates her extensive experience in leading the effort to improve wellness as well as the role of higher education in improving lives.

In addition to leading the Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, Shalala has served as the president of the University of Miami and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently Trustee Professor of Political Science and Health Policy at the University of Miami.

Marshall asked about the importance of partnerships and collaboration in health care.

“It’s important to health care. It’s also important to the great universities in this country,” Shalala said. “Forums like this are opportunities for great universities to talk about what they are doing and to get community input.”

Shalala said health care is dependent on partnerships from patients to doctors and nurses to communities.

“The opiate crisis going on right now cannot be solved by the doctors and the nurses. It requires a community partnership that embraces those that are afflicted and their families,” she said. “It gives them an opportunity for treatment as well as a life after that.”

Shalala said she believes incentives are needed to improve health care. She said more needs to be done to encourage people to get vaccinated, eat more healthfully and exercise more. Shalala said incentives are also needed to boost the number of primary care physicians over specialists.

President Drake opens the Q&A

Shalala answered questions from an audience of students, faculty and staff as well as members of the community who attended the conference.

President Michael V. Drake asked the first question.

“You’ve led universities over a long period of time in between doing other things. How have you seen the role of universities in society change during that time?” Drake asked.

“What I saw in my lifetime is the great universities becoming the economic engine of innovation,” Shalala said. “It’s really been the universities that have transformed this country. With our investments in science and technology we’ve changed both the economy of the country and offered opportunities that would not have existed for earlier generations.”

Shalala said universities, particularly public universities, are being squeezed by tighter budgets at the state and national level. She also expressed concern over what she described as a growing strain of anti-intellectualism in the country.

Shalala was asked about the role of government in building healthier communities. The former Peace Corp volunteer said it starts by getting involved at the ground level of service.

“You can’t make policy,” she said, “if you don’t understand people’s lives.”

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