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University of Iowa News Release

June 30, 2006

Photos (from top): James Merchant, dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health and Senior Advisor to the President for Iowa Public Health Policy and Programs; Christopher Atchison, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice in the College of Public Health and designated Public Health Official for Pandemic Influenza Response.

Fethke Appoints New UI Leaders For Public Health Policy And Preparedness

James Merchant, dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health, will assume an additional title and duties as Senior Advisor to the President for Iowa Public Health Policy and Programs, UI Interim President Gary Fethke announced today. The appointment is subject to approval by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

In addition, Fethke announced that Christopher Atchison, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice in the College of Public Health, would serve as the designated Public Health Official called for in the University's recently developed Pandemic Influenza Response Plan. Atchison, who chaired the task force that developed the plan, will report to Merchant as he leads further public health emergency planning.

"I am pleased that Dr. Merchant and Professor Atchison have agreed to accept these assignments," Fethke said. "I have asked Dr. Merchant to direct the University's preparation for the possibility of a major flu epidemic and to lead discussions on health care policy reforms and related issues for the entire state. He is well qualified because of his own expertise and because he is well acquainted with others who have deep knowledge of both issues.

"Professor Atchison also has excellent qualifications and experience to direct our pandemic influenza response, as evidenced by his fine work in leading the task force to develop our response plan," Fethke added.

"These are significant health concerns for all Iowans, so I am honored that President Fethke has asked me to lead this effort," Merchant said. "I am confident that the College of Public Health, the University's health sciences center, and our colleagues across the state will be able to develop policies on the best way to proceed."

Merchant completed his MD at the UI, followed by a residency in internal medicine at Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital, and a fellowship in pulmonary medicine at Duke University.  He holds a DrPH in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina and served as a senior commissioned officer in the US Public Health Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for nearly a decade.  He co-directed the CDC response to the eruption of Mt. St. Helen in 1980.  He joined the UI faculty in 1981 and previously directed the Institute for Rural and Environmental Health and Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health.

He served as a member of the CDC Director's Advisory Committee from 1992-2002, chaired the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) - CDC Consultation Committee for Public Health Preparedness Committee from 2003-2006, and has chaired the ASPH Legislative Committee from 2003 to the present. Together with the directors of the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, and the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, he co-chairs the Education and Training Advisory Committee, which advises those three state agencies and the UI's CDC-sponsored Upper Midwest Center for Public Health Preparedness.  He was elected to the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, in 1998.

Atchison, clinical professor of health management and policy, serves as director of the Institute for Public Health Practice and is the principle investigator for the CDC-sponsored Upper Midwest Center for Public Health Preparedness. Prior to joining the University, Atchison served for eight years as Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health (1991-1999) where, among other duties, he oversaw Iowa's public health preparedness activities, including the response to the catastrophic floods of 1993. During his tenure, Atchison also served as President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) during the years 1994 and 1995. In 1998, he received ASTHO's Arthur T. McCormack Award for his contributions to public health practice. 

STORY SOURCE: University Relations, 101 Jessup Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1000.

MEDIA CONTACT: Steve Parrott, 319-335-0552, steven-parrott@uiowa.edu