“Every one of us knows somebody or someplace that struggles with profound health issues.”
Randy Leite, dean of Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, said those words ahead of a historic signing Oct. 5 that officially launched the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health, a groundbreaking collaboration between Ohio University and The University of Toledo.
“For most of those issues, we don’t know what the answers and the solutions are yet,” Leite continued. “We have an exciting opportunity to begin to make life better for those individuals and those places by bringing our resources together.”
The partnership between Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and the University of Toledo’s College of Health and Human Services has the goal of creating community-specific ways to fix health problems in the state of Ohio with each partner contributing its unique strengths and research capabilities. The collaboration also includes joint academic offerings for students.
OHIO President M. Duane Nellis and University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber were on hand at the Ohio Department of Higher Education to offer their support and signatures to formalize the agreement.
“Ohio University prides itself on educating students who are committed to using their degrees to benefit their communities in the state of Ohio and beyond. This agreement continues to emphasize the commitment to our mission,” Nellis said.
“This partnership will pursue the development of a model that will facilitate access to specific courses offered by each college to the other. Initially, this will include cross teaching of the University of Toledo’s certificate in Chemical Dependency Counseling and the Ohio University certificate in Global Health,” Nellis said of the partnership. “This is the right thing to do at the right time in our state’s history and in higher education’s history in Ohio.”
“We’re excited about the opportunities,” said Gaber. “In addition to improved academic opportunities for our students and improving the health of Ohio’s residents, it will also help increase our research infrastructure and capabilities. The alliance will help to establish best practices to address critical population health issues and through the partnership we’ll be able to better research root causes of health issues.”
The Alliance has already identified health care access, low birth weight, infant mortality, addiction issues and other chronic diseases as priority public health issues to address early on.
“With two of the state’s largest health-focused colleges joining forces, jointly we can make a bigger impact and tackle bigger health issues,” Gaber said.
According to Leite, he and Chris Ingersoll, dean of the UT College of Health and Human Services, came up with an idea three years ago to try to bring health deans across the state together for collaborative initiatives. The two decided about a year ago to try to begin the alliance. Beginning this past spring, the two met each month to discuss the partnership which led to Thursday’s signing.
“Universities typically do their own thing and don’t interact but we wanted to find ways to bring faculty researchers together and for students to be able to take classes at different places. It’s thinking outside the box. Geographically, we’re far away from each other but that also allows us to bracket the state and get more statewide,” said Leite.
According to Leite, the effort also currently involves two collaborating partners, The University of Toledo School of Law and OHIO’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, and may eventually include other partners as well.
The challenge going forward with the partnership, according to Leite, is to set up the logistics of the classes, admission, tuition and so forth and to continue to mold the effort to fit needs.
Seeing the Alliance signed into existence was a satisfying moment for Leite and others.
Rick Hodges, former director of the Ohio Department of Health and a UT alumnus, will serve as the director of the Alliance. He said having decentralized population health presents challenges but universities have a unique opportunity to go into a community and provide a support system and resources.
“We can get on the ground and solve problems with the local communities in a way that’s unique and creative,” Hodges said.
State Representative Jay Edwards, an alumnus of Ohio University, has made tackling the opioid epidemic in Ohio a high priority. With this Alliance, Edwards sees another weapon in that battle.
“The more people you can have at the table, the more you can get to work collaboratively and get new ideas,” he said. “It’s a win-win-win for everyone with the community being the ultimate winner with the things that are going to come from this grouping. It just shows that the competitiveness of the schools, the division everyone has, can be set aside. Public health, good research and development and education comes to the forefront. It’s not about just Ohio University or University of Toledo, it’s about the good that can be done together.”
Leite said students at both institutions are going to have the opportunity to be in settings where they can see innovative approaches to solving health problems and be able to get out into the world where they’re going to live.
“We have two institutions that have done great things in education and research and we’re committed to doing great things outside the walls of our campuses to make a difference,” said Leite. “We know we each do good things and we know together we can do great things.”