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On the Rise: Health Management and Policy Chair Alex Ortega Discusses New Academic and Research Developments

May 23, 2016

Alex Ortega, PhD, joined the Dornsife School of Public Health last fall as professor and chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy. His work includes implementation and evaluation of built environment interventions as well as assessment of policy decisions related to undocumented immigrants and the Affordable Care Act, among other areas.

What are some of the latest developments in Health Management and Policy here at Drexel?

Academically, we are developing new tracks in management and policy for the MPH, and are working on a PhD program in health services research and policy. We’ll also offer a GIS class next year, taught by Brent Langellier, who is also planning a new course in agent-based modeling and systems analysis that will be offered in the future. Jonathan Purtle is also teaching new courses in policy analysis and evaluation for health services.

We’re adding new faculty to round out our health economics program, from within Drexel as well as a new hire. LeBow College of Business Associate Professor of Economics Mark Stehr and College of Nursing and Health Professions Assistant Professor Jerome Dugan now have secondary appointments within Health Management and Policy. In addition, we’re excited to welcome Ryan McKenna from Stony Brook University, SUNY as an assistant professor joining us in September.

The Dornsife School of Public Health is on the rise. Drexel University sees the value of public health and our school, for its role in helping the university achieve our mission of being the most civically engaged university in the United States.

How is the department aiming to improve health in cities like Philadelphia?

We continue to develop and strengthen partnerships with local community-based organizations, community clinics, hospitals, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. For example, we are working to understand existing efforts that connect with the quickly growing Latino community in Philadelphia.

Our Dean Emerita Marla Gold served on Mayor Kenney’s transition team and sits on the Health Commissioner’s Board of Health, along with Dornsife colleague Shannon Marquez. Dr. Gold continues to teach leadership courses to our graduate students.

Professor Jim Buehler is back in Nesbitt Hall after serving as the City’s Health Commissioner for the past few years. In addition to teaching public health systems classes, he will be working with the city to develop policy briefs, tightening our connection with the city further.

How are interventions intended to increase equal access to care or food, working to improve health for all?

The school has a long history of work - by Ana Diez Roux, Felice Le-Sherban, Amy Auchincloss and others - that has examined the relationship between the built environment and population health.

On the other end, what happens when we try to improve those environments to increase opportunities and access? My work designs, implements, and evaluates built environment interventions, such as increasing access to healthy food or improving access to health care.

What does it mean to improve access to healthy foods if people don’t know how to prepare meals with new ingredients? Right now, we’ve just published a new study showing that a corner store intervention had little to no impact on the health behaviors of residents.

I’ve also spent a lot of time researching the Affordable Care Act and the impact of excluding undocumented immigrants. We are using econometric modeling to understand the impact policy decisions have on premiums, utilization of services, and population health.

And we’re publishing research soon on a project in Los Angeles where we worked with local high school youth to identify and address public health issues within their communities.

Beyond my built environment, access and health behavior work, an expert panel I was part of will be releasing a guidance report later this month on Total Worker Health. Our group was convened by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and examined worker health issues, encompassing both occupational safety as well as worksite wellness policies, and will lay out funding and research priorities.

Do you have any tips for students or recent alumni, in HMP or otherwise?

Public health is a quickly changing field with new complex challenges. Grappling with important public health concerns in this new era of population health and community-engagement will require new thinking, new curricula, and new approaches to training our students.