Rice, Medical Center Institutions Join Forces On Health Initiative

April 08, 1999

Tarlov to Lead Major Research Program to Examine Social Determinants of Illness

HOUSTON, April 8, 1999 -- The resources of Rice University and the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center will be joined formally for the first time in a major research program to identify social and societal determinants of the health of the world's population and to develop public policies that could contribute to a significant decrease in illness and increase in well-being and productivity.

Rice and the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center officials announced today the research team--to be led by Dr. Alvin R. Tarlov of Harvard University--will be based at Rice's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

As another component of this cooperative health policy initiative, Baylor College of Medicine has joined Rice to establish an endowed chair for a scholar who will specialize in health policy and health economics.

Tarlov is currently executive director of the Health Institute at the New England Medical Center in Boston and professor of health promotion and chairman of the Mind/Brain/Body Society and Health Initiative at Harvard University. Formerly, Tarlov was president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in California and chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago.

Tarlov has accepted a position as the Sid Richardson and Taylor and Robert H. Ray Senior Fellow in Health Policy at Rice's Baker Institute and a professorship at the UT-Houston School of Public Health. Tarlov will move to Rice in the fall to launch the research program.

The Baker Institute position is funded by a $2 million endowment from the Sid Richardson Foundation and distributions from the Ray Endowment and UT-Houston. In addition to the Tarlov appointment at Rice's Baker Institute, a substantial amount of other resources are being committed to this project. Rice and UT-Houston Health Science Center will jointly make three appointments in the field of social determinants of health and illness: one in medical sociology and two in social epidemiology.

"We are privileged to have Alvin Tarlov, a leading figure in the field of social determinants of health, to accept this joint position linking the Baker Institute and the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center," said Rice President Malcolm Gillis. "This represents yet another important step in our plan to expand collaboration with several institutions of the Texas Medical Center over the coming decades. This new effort begins with the recognition that our current health care system is geared much too strongly to treatment of those who are most seriously ill, at the expense of proactive measures. Medical intervention far earlier in the process could significantly reduce the number of people who become seriously ill."

Dr. M. David Low, president of the University of Texas--Houston Health Science Center, said, "Several years ago I began working on introducing a program on the social determinants of health. To implement such an ambitious undertaking, however, I knew we needed more than the typical capabilities of an academic health center. We needed sociologists and economists and others who were interested in determinants of health from a policy perspective, such as faculty and staff at Rice University and specifically the Baker Institute.

"The Society and Health Initiative that we are jointly implementing--and which we expect will lead to a worldwide epidemiological effort to trace the socially influenced causes of disease--will be as pertinent as the present effort to map the human genome. There could be no better leader for this initiative than Alvin Tarlov."

Tarlov said: "The vision and quality of the great institutions in Houston and the ambition of their plans poise the program for world-grade accomplishment that will be meaningful for health improvement in Texas, the United States and internationally."

The creation of the James A. Baker III Joint Chair in Health Policy and Health Economics at Rice and the Baylor College of Medicine will play an important part in the scope of the research effort.

"The individual who holds the James A. Baker III chair will ultimately affect development of the health policies in the United States that play a critical role in all of our lives, both as providers and consumers," said Dr. Ralph D. Feigin, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine.

Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian said: "Tarlov will lead this innovative program, which will be open to faculty involvement across the board in an interdisciplinary manner both here at Rice and at the Medical Center institutions."

"Although American health policy has been debated repeatedly and at times hotly since the turn of the century, those debates have revolved almost entirely around questions about access to medical care and methods of payments for medical services," Djerejian continued. "And each round has served more to confuse than to clarify. So far, none of the commonly asked questions or their answers have been very helpful in guiding policy. Our global approach to health issues will stake out new ground and provide creative opportunities for research and policy formation."
Additional Contacts:
University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center
Gay McFarland, news media administrator
713-500-3033 or gmcfarla@admin4.hsc.uth.tmc.edu

Baylor College of Medicine
Dorey Zodrow, senior director of communications
713-798-4712 or dzodrow@bcm.tmc.edu

Editors: A photo of Dr. Tarlov (300 dpi TIFF file) can be downloaded from the Rice University web pages at http://riceinfo.rice.edu/projects/reno/photos/photo_repository.html.

Rice University

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