New institute to ease the pain of health-care issues

NAU’s Interdisciplinary Health Policy Institute will include:

an Office of Health Disparities Improvement to concentrate on improving rural and urban health care in Arizona, addressing disparities in health related to race, ethnicity, poverty and socio-economic status, with a special emphasis on Native American health issues.
the Office of Wellness and Health Information to increase holistic approaches to health and wellness.
the Office for Health and Society Studies to serve as a nexus of interdisciplinary teaching and curriculum development in health-related areas.

Northern Arizona University is creating an Interdisciplinary Health Policy Institute to help Arizona’s ailing health-care system.

“The United States and Arizona’s health-care systems are broken,” said Paul Dutton, founding executive director of the institute and an associate professor in NAU’s history department. “In recent years, due in large part to the skyrocketing costs of health-insurance premiums and falling access to medical care and services, Arizonans have become increasingly willing to consider diverse solutions for health system change.”

Dutton said the institute will begin operations July 1 and will increase awareness and funding potential for health issues related to class, race, ethnicity, gender and to both rural and urban areas.

“NAU has many faculty and staff who work in health and health-care related research and teaching,” Dutton said. “The institute will bring these researchers and teachers together to collaborate for the good of NAU, its students, the knowledge of health and to work for better health care in Arizona and around the world.”

He said the need for an institute became obvious after an October 2007 survey revealed that nearly 75 percent of Arizonans are dissatisfied with the cost and quality of health care. NAU’s Social Research Laboratory conducted the survey.

“The ranks of Arizona’s uninsured are expected to grow by at least 20,000 people each year for the foreseeable future,” Dutton said. “More than half the people surveyed said they had trouble paying for prescription drugs.”

Dutton, who gained recognition for his 2007 bookDifferential Diagnoses, A Comparative History of Health Care Problems and Solutions in the United States and France, is organizing the institute into three offices: two will be devoted to research and one office will focus on teaching and curriculum (see sidebar).

Dutton’s expertise on health-care systems led him to be chosen to direct the institute. He will report to Leslie Schulz, executive dean of NAU’s College of Health and Human Services.

“The institute is an important step in Northern Arizona University’s growing commitment to address the health-care needs in Arizona,” NAU President John Haeger said.

Due to budget considerations, NAU is funding the institute at lower than anticipated levels, but the president noted he is committed to funding priorities, which include the university’s health-care initiative.

Dutton believes the institute will attract “substantial” research dollars to the university.

He said it will have a special focus on rural Arizona and Native American health issues and health care, and that by 2009, it will offer an undergraduate minor and graduate degree certification program in health and society studies.