By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
WILLIAMSON - West Virginia University will soon open its School of Public Health, and the founding Dean visited Williamson to discuss how the role the new school will play in the health of the state.
Dr. Alan Ducatman is the interim founding Dean of the WVU Emerging School of Public Health, the first new school opened by the University in over 50 years.
According to the Institute of Medicine, public health includes “the efforts, science, art, and approaches used by all sectors of society to assure, maintain, protect, promote, and improve the health of the people.”
He said that although health issues facing the state, particularly our Southern Counties, are daunting, they can be addressed through strong programs that provide training and jobs, research, and data for policy interventions.
“We have serious health problems, and the reasons for those problems are inherent in rural living, such as our topography and socio-economic status,” Dr. Ducatman said. “But we must not let these reasons become excuses.”
He explained the School will bring together partnerships, resources and vision for improving the health of West Virginians.
“West Virginia ranks near the bottom in many health-risk indicators such as diabetes and diabetic complications, heart and vascular disease, oral health and lung cancer and other respiratory disease.”
He explained risk factors facing people in the Mountain State include – tobacco use, obesity, physical inactivity and youth and motor vehicles in rural mountains.
However, Dr. Ducatman said a major factor affecting the health of the state is prescription drug use.
“Our state leads the country in the use of opiods,” the Dean said. “We are seeing a rise in what has been historically low violence rates, as well as a increasing rate of hepatitis C, both of which I believe are related to the increase of prescription drug abuse.”
He added that data compiled by the School of Public Health would help healthcare professionals address problems as they are emerging.
“That is the role of Public Health,” Ducatman said. “The FBI shouldn’t be our first line of defense when we face rural health problems.”
Despite the negative health issues facing the state, there are some bright spots in our health outlook, Dr. Ducatman said.
“Real success stories, such as immunization rates, infectious diseases, school health interventions, and youth tobacco programs, are easily overlooked,” he said.
Dean Ducatman said he realized Mingo County was moving forward, and that the WVU School of Public Health could contribute to that progress.
“I feel excitement here,” he said. “New things are happening with economic progress and sustainability. Poverty has its own dynamic, and the cost of healthcare is bankrupting our country.”
Dr. Ducatman said the new School would bring progress in addressing West Virginia’s health issues with by producing engaged students with marketing skills and research with data-driven impact on local and national problems. Healthcare students at WVU are already working in community interventions to improve risk factors and outcomes and the quality of health services and outcomes.
“West Virginia’s public health problems are wide, deep, and barriers to economic progress,” Ducatman said. “A new School of Public Health offers strong programs that provide training and jobs, research, and data for policy interventions. These can help.”
He emphasized that the new school would help build support needed to improve the lives of West Virginians.
“It is important to expand our areas of excellence and to leverage resources,” Ducatman said. “Together, we are bigger and better.”