COLUMBIA OPENS UNIT ON DISASTERS
29 Apr 2003
Source: New York Times, April 29, 2003
Columbia Opens Unit on Disasters
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEYA
Columbia University has lured one of the stars of New York City's health care industry, Dr. Irwin Redlener, away from Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx to head a new policy center on disaster preparedness.
Acquiring Dr. Redlener, who has been president of Montefiore's Children's Hospital, is a coup for Columbia and its graduate school of public health, the only one in the region. He is a prodigious fund-raiser, a prominent voice on a number of health issues, including bioterrorism, and an adviser to many elected officials, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Dr. Redlener, 58, will hold the titles of associate dean at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, founding director of the school's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, and professor of pediatrics at the Columbia Medical School. The new jobs begin Thursday. He and the university declined to discuss his compensation.
He will continue to serve as president of the Children's Health Fund, a nonprofit group based in Manhattan, and said he envisioned a number of projects run jointly by the fund and Columbia. The Children's Health Fund spends more than $4 million a year, most of it from private donations, on health care for poor children, and may be best known for sending big vans outfitted as mobile medical centers into poor neighborhoods around the country and conducting free clinics.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has financed several centers for public health preparedness around the country, including one at Columbia. Dr. Redlener and Columbia officials say they plan to find private financing to expand on that base and create something more ambitious, akin to the disaster policy programs at a handful of universities, like Johns Hopkins and Minnesota.
"It's going to be a training center, under the guise of the C.D.C. center," Dr. Redlener said, "but it'll also be a think tank where we can really get a handle on what our society needs to do to get better prepared for disasters in general and for new threats like terrorism in particular."
Dr. Redlener has spent 13 years at Montefiore, one of the city's leading teaching hospitals — it is closely affiliated with Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It is also one of the largest and most successful hospitals financially.
He was a driving force behind the creation of Montefiore's Children's Hospital, an impressive place with touches like outer-space-themed décor, recessed lighting, Internet connections and plasma-screen televisions in every room. He raised money for its construction and served as its director from 1999. A floor of the hospital, endowed by the singer Paul Simon, is named for Dr. Redlener.
Dr. Redlener said his decision to leave Montefiore "is really a draw to Columbia, where there is quite an extraordinary opportunity."
Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman school, said, "Irwin and I have known each other and talked about collaborating since 1985, and I know this is a great move for us." He acknowledged Dr. Redlener's prowess as a fund-raiser and "a great communicator" on health care issues. "I didn't recruit him for those purposes, but obviously they will be helpful."
Dr. Spencer Foreman, president of Montefiore, released a statement that credited Dr. Redlener with doing "a terrific job" and added, "We wish him well in his new position."
Also leaving Montefiore and moving to Columbia will be David Markenson, who has worked on emergency preparedness, and Rebecca McKenzie, chief of staff at Montefiore's Children's Hospital.
Dr. Redlener has worked extensively on responding to health emergencies in other countries, but it was not until after the Sept. 11 attack that he became interested in the field of domestic disaster preparedness. At a conference for hospital officials two weeks after the attack, he became discouraged, he said, when federal officials conceded not only that some of their health care planning for a terror attack was lacking, but also that they had made no special preparations for children.
Dr. Redlener put together a group of doctors who prepared a lengthy letter to members of Congress, raising a number of issues. It pointed out that children's minds and bodies can respond differently than adults' do to chemical and germ attacks and to the medicines given to treat them, and that children were more susceptible than adults to some airborne agents because they breathe faster or because the agents tend to collect closer to the ground.
Many of the concerns they raised were reflected in the bioterror bill Congress passed last year.