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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

WSU hires UW team to assess public health issues

Washington State University has hired a group of researchers to assess health problems facing rural communities and local minority groups.

At least six researchers are coming to WSU Spokane from the University of Washington’s Partnerships for Native Health program. The effort is aimed at mitigating unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, poor diets and sleep patterns.

“It’s a major move on our part,” said Daniel Bernardo, who became WSU’s interim president earlier this month after president Elson Floyd died of cancer. “Elson had really wanted to be in the public health space.”

The soon-to-be-relocated UW team specializes in field-based research addressing health problems specific to Native Americans, and WSU wants to expand that to include Latinos and other underserved populations. Although moving to WSU’s payroll, the researchers will continue working at both universities.

John Roll, WSU Spokane’s senior vice chancellor, said the new public health researchers will work with faculty of the nursing and health sciences schools. The campus has around 500 employees. About 15 work in public health-related fields, he said.

The Spokane campus also will be home to WSU’s new medical school, which state lawmakers approved earlier this year. It is in the developmental stages.

Partnerships for Native Health is led by Dr. Dedra Buchwald, a professor of epidemiology and medicine. She’ll be joined in Spokane by Seattle colleagues Dr. Ka’imi Sinclair, an epidemiologist; Dr. Clemma Muller, an epidemiologist and biostatistician; Glen Duncan, an exercise physiologist; psychologists Lonnie Nelson and Michael McDonnell; and a small support team.

Some of their research aims to help urban Native American populations lose weight and quit smoking; some of it assesses disparities in the rates of alcoholism, obesity and cardiovascular diseases among tribal and ethnic groups. “The eastern part of the state is very underserved,” Buchwald said. Negotiations to hire other UW employees are underway and depend on the amount of grant money that can be transferred to WSU, Roll added.

WSU has no plans to create a dedicated public health school. Gonzaga University is considering launching an undergraduate program in public health, and Eastern Washington University offers a master’s degree in that discipline, so WSU’s new public health faculty will focus on research, Roll said.

“We’re really not trying to compete with either of them,” he said.

Chancellor Lisa Brown said WSU Spokane may eventually offer joint degrees in public health and other disciplines, like nursing.

Correction July 30, 2015: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Gonzaga University offers an undergraduate program in public health, due to incorrect information provided by a source. Gonzaga has tentative plans for a public health program that have not been submitted for consideration, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
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