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Local Impact: RSPH alumni serve Atlanta and the state in varied-and distinctive-ways Ko Hassan states "We are partners with other funders-such as foundations, charities, or state and local goverments-to make the world a better place."
  The Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) may be housed in an eight-story building on Clifton Road, but no mere building can contain its reach. Diverse and dynamic, alumni carry their RSPH experiences with them on their myriad journeys through life. Many serve locally in Atlanta and in Georgia with nonprofit organizations, public entities, and private industries. All are improving health for people in distinctive ways.  
  Maximum impact
Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Khurram “Ko” Hassan, 90C, 92MPH, was on the job. As community impact director for the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, he worked day and night to plan for the storm’s impact on the city.
     “Within four days of the hurricane, United Way held a meeting with various agencies to develop a local response to the people we knew would flock here,” he says. “We knew they would need jobs, housing, health care, and child care. I saw it coming immediately.”
     In short order, Hassan and others organized a 90-day plan and raised $10.8 million to help Katrina evacuees. The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta took the lead to coordinate disaster response by bringing as many groups to the table as soon as possible. By January of 2006, Hassan’s efforts earned him the role of coordinator for United Way’s local disaster response, adding to a long list of far-flung and diverse responsibilities.
     Intense and stressful, at least disaster response is usually a finite effort. Tackling an intractable, ongoing social problem such as homelessness requires long-term commitment. Hassan helps groups work together on entrenched, complicated problems to maximize the impact of every United Way dollar.
     The United Way has committed $22 million to the Regional Commission on Homelessness for the past three years. As the primary United Way liaison for addiction and mental health aspects of the project, Hassan manages related money and oversees much of the effort. The homelessness initiative, led by Mayor Shirley Franklin, involves community leaders, city and county officials, and local nonprofit groups.
     “Our goal is to end homelessness in Atlanta within 10 years,” Hassan says. “This involves substance abuse and mental illness issues, as well as hunger and family issues. However, creation of supportive housing is the most important strategy.”
     In addition to addiction and mental health programs, Hassan coordinates street outreach teams for the commission. He also works with Grady Memorial Hospital, the city and county jails, and local police.
     “I bring these disparate groups together, and we’re developing uniform research-based approaches to the homelessness problem,” he says. “We want to engage homeless people who don’t want housing by using a concept out of New York and Washington, DC, called ‘Housing First.’ This approach turns former strategies on the problem upside down. We don’t just try to find them a bed or an apartment. We try to treat mental health and substance abuse issues before finding them housing. That way they will be more likely to stay and improve their lives.”
     The workings of “drug courts,” which seek alternatives to incarceration for people charged with drug offenses, are an important part of this effort. These courts strive proactively to prevent chronic homelessness before it happens.
     “If many substance abusers don’t get treatment, they’ll end up homeless,” says Hassan. “I’ve gotten the Fulton and DeKalb county drug courts to work together. Cross-jurisdictional work like this is very unusual and can be tricky, but since they’re sharing United Way funding, I can work with them to make sure they are working effectively and cooperatively.”
     As community impact director, Hassan, his co-workers, and volunteers oversee about $78 million in “impact” work and many of the community programs that United Way funds. As part of this effort, Hassan manages health and disability strategies for people at risk. He also guides United Way advisory boards on individual issues, and these boards help guide United Way investments. Since United Way is a volunteer-run organization, and members of the advisory boards are volunteers, coordinating program goals and volunteer desires is another area that requires negotiation.
     “I provide subject expertise to help make sure everyone can work together,” says Hassan. “Sometimes I have to make judgments, but more often, I help them compromise. We partner with other funders—such as foundations, charities, or state and local governments—to make the world a better place. In order to make things work, we must respect each other.”
Nidhi Prakash says "I chose health care on the business side. I knew that using my skills and interests in management and finance in the health care industry would be more rewarding for me."
  The business of health care
Nidhi Prakash, 04MPH, spends a lot of time at the airport. Like many business travelers, she knows the flight schedules to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington, DC, by heart. Any day of the week might find her flying somewhere to help health organizations work more effectively.
     As an associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. in Atlanta, Prakash consults for virtually any kind of health care organization, working with them to better deliver quality care to the public. Along with her team of associates at the company, she works for hospitals, clinical practices, nursing homes, and insurance companies, to name just some of her clients. They include organizations in the private and public sectors, both nonprofit and for profit.
     Her work requires an ability to adapt quickly to new work environments and develop new skills on demand. It also requires the desire to help others improve their work, their work environments, and their effectiveness for real people.
     “We sometimes reorganize entire organizations to make them more efficient,” she says. “We streamline operations for health systems large and small. If you name it, we can do it. PricewaterhouseCoopers is an international company with incredible resources.”
     Majoring in health policy and management at the RSPH prepared her to be versatile and helped her develop many of the skills she uses every day. It also offered her a big picture view of U.S. health care. Some of the most important lessons she gleaned from her time at RSPH was the importance of service. Prakash considered attending business school but decided to pursue an MPH because of her desire to use her strong business skills for the greater good. She gains the most satisfaction out of projects that yield concrete benefits for large numbers of people.
     “One of my most rewarding assignments was for a client where we analyzed how well they helped their community and how they could make the most of their efforts,” she says. “This health care organization already offered many free programs to the public, such as car seat programs, parenting classes, and health fairs. We compared them to their competition. Gathering this information and making it available for them in a concrete way helped them market their services, raise their profile in the community, and communicate with the public.”
     Just as important, keeping organizations financially healthy during difficult times for the health care industry allows them to continue to provide the best care possible.
     “I chose health care on the business side,” she says. “I knew that using my skills and interests in management and finance in the health care industry would be more rewarding for me. That’s why I chose an MPH over an MBA.”
     As Prakash knows, PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has a strong tradition of hiring RSPH graduates, offers much to career-driven finance professionals. “The opportunities at a place like this are endless.”
  The epicenter of public health
Sally Crelia, 92MPH, is glad to be home. A manager in the health care division at BearingPoint Inc., an international consulting firm based in McLean, Virginia, Crelia was raised in Atlanta. She enjoys being back but more important she is glad to return to what she considers the hub of public health.
     “Atlanta is a great city for public health work,” she says. “There are so many resources here—the CDC, the American Cancer Society, CARE, The Carter Center, and Emory. It’s a great place for me and for BearingPoint to be. I feel like I’m at the center of where things are happening.”
     Crelia was based in BearingPoint’s McLean office before relocating to Atlanta to support the CDC. She specializes in health services evaluation and research and recently worked with the CDC’s National Center for Health Marketing to assist them in developing better ways for corporate workplaces to prepare for an influenza pandemic. She also has supported the CDC’s Healthy Aging Division of the National Center for Chronic Disease and Prevention. “We helped them bring together experts on Alzheimer’s disease and aging to develop an action plan for educating and informing the public about cognitive diseases,” she says.
     For now, Crelia concentrates primarily on domestic public health issues. She recently conducted research for the Office of the Surgeon General, evaluating the U.S. Army’s behavioral health services to find unmet needs, barriers to mental health care, and gaps in services. “Our work was aimed at making sure that soldiers and their families could effectively use mental health services without the fear of stigma or problems,” she says.
     The project teams that Crelia manages conduct both qualitative and quantitative evaluations of health care programs. “I work on the qualitative side, conducting interviews, focus groups, site visits, and case studies,” she says. “We also help design studies to assist our clients in evaluating the effectiveness of their programs. I basically interpret the numbers.”
     Crelia has managed high-profile projects for other government agencies, including the NIH, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Internationally, she has consulted for BearingPoint with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNICEF, and others.
     While earning her degree at RSPH and for a year after graduation, Crelia worked with the school’s Program Against Micronutrient Malnutrition. “The opportunities for such hands-on work as a student really helped me stand out,” says Crelia, who majored in international health.
     “At BearingPoint, I’ve had the opportunity to do international and domestic work, which has been great for me,” she adds. “Lots of people feel they have to choose between one or other, but here I have been able to integrate both.”
  Healthy mediation
Peace, serenity, and tranquility are words not usually associated with lawsuits, custody battles, and divorce. Litigation of any kind is usually painful, stressful, and combative for everyone involved, including the attorneys, says Pilar Jan Penn, 89MPH.
     A lawyer since 1993, Penn has chosen a different path born partly out of her public health background. Two years ago, she named her Atlanta law practice PeaceWorks, which helps clients solve conflicts through mediation rather than legal combat. Mediation provides a more affordable option that can be available to all.
     “The law and public health have a lot in common,” says Penn. “Both lawyers and public health professionals often work for social change.”
     Her training as a health educator at RSPH and her work for the Georgia Department of Human Resources in the early 1990s played a pivotal part in the evolution of her career. She trained physicians, nurses, and funeral directors about new mandatory reporting requirements for HIV. The work inspired her to become a lawyer.
     After attending law school at Vanderbilt University, she worked with public interest groups on issues related to civil rights, health law and policy, and women’s and children’s issues and with the Southern Environmental Law Center on law and policy issues.
     “Although this work has been very rewarding, I became acutely aware of the stress involved in any type of litigation,” she says. “Even though public interest law theoretically is rooted in social justice, the legal process is adversarial almost any way you look at it.”
     Penn is a practitioner of yoga and meditation and tries to bring those tenets to people entrenched in conflict. The results are often unexpected and can seem miraculous to all involved. Stress is unhealthy, and mediation offers a healthier alternative. It’s also more affordable.
     “There is a justice gap in our country,” says Penn. “Legal Aid supports the very poor and households with certain incomes required to be eligible for services. The wealthy can more easily afford the costs associated with going to court. Moderate-income people find it more difficult paying a lawyer $125 an hour because family budgets are dedicated to the basics of paying the mortgage and paying for food, clothing, and child care.
     “Moderate- and middle-income people don’t have equal access to the civil law system, which ideally should serve everyone. The American Bar Association recognizes the problem and has studied and quantified it. But the problem persists.”
     That’s where Penn’s solution comes in. She wants to fill a niche that is now wide open and encourage young lawyers to do the same.
     “There is no need to duplicate the services already offered, such as Legal Aid or the work being done by public interest law advocacy groups. I see participating in the effort to close the gap as most essential,” she says. “For myself, I want my practice to promote the positive goals of mediation and offer it as an option for my clients because that’s what brings me peace.”

  Pharma and the big picture
Brian Mitchell, 00MBA/MPH, stands out. He sees the big picture. He is distinctive among leaders in the pharmaceutical industry, and he credits his time at the RSPH for that advantage.
     As director of marketing for cardio-metabolic and specialized markets for Solvay Pharmaceuticals in Atlanta, he puts his knowledge to good use. He manages the managers of nationwide marketing for an array of therapies, helps plot strategies, and makes sure marketing plans for different products work in concert with those of the company at large.
     “My MPH has really paid off for me,” says Mitchell, who majored in health policy and management. “The public health perspective and my understanding of health policy and larger trends in health care give me a unique perspective within the industry.”
     One of his company’s most exciting projects is developing new flu vaccines, and Mitchell is already helping plot nationwide marketing strategies. With recent concerns about a possible flu pandemic and the spread of avian flu, the U.S. government has been working with drug companies to develop new vaccines. Solvay recently received a $298 million grant, the largest in the industry. The vaccines are under development, with experiments at the cellular level.
     “Introducing new flu products into the marketplace is extremely important, and we hope to make a huge impact in terms of public health,” he says. “Our vaccines should be good for all groups of people at risk for flu, whether it’s avian flu or another powerful flu. We’re concentrating on products that will be safe and effective in both the elderly and the very young.”
     Mitchell also manages marketing strategy for an anti-nausea drug called Marinol for treating people undergoing chemotherapy. The drug also stimulates appetite for people who are HIV positive.
     Although some in public health see the role of big pharma as adversarial, Mitchell says drug companies play an enormous role in improving the public’s health.
     “The pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest contributors to lowering mortality and improving quality of life, keeping people productive during illness,” he says. “Every drug company I know provides special programs to help low-income patients afford medication. Our products keep people out of hospitals, at work, and productive. In the big picture, drug therapies save the health care industry a lot of money.”
     The time, money, and risk that a drug company puts on the line to develop new therapies are enormous. “Of every 100 molecules studied, 95 will not make it to the first stage, and 99 will never make it to the marketplace. It generally takes 10 years from discovery of a molecule to make it to the marketplace.”
     Before Solvay, Mitchell worked as a sales representative for Abbott Laboratories and then SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals. Earning his graduate degrees while working full-time at Abbott was strenuous, but “I was young at the time, and the company helped pay for it,” he says.
     About a year and a half into Emory’s Evening MBA Program, a friend suggested he consider taking some classes at the RSPH since he was in the pharmaceutical business. Studying for an MPH in addition to an MBA extended his three-year program to four, but the time was worth it, he notes.
     “More knowledge never goes to waste.”

Valerie Gregg is an Atlanta freelance writer and former editor of this magazine.


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