Cerra: Health center faces best and worst

Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

Citing “A Tale of Two Cities,” Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Frank Cerra said the Academic Health Center is “in the best of times and the worst of times” in his annual address Wednesday at Moos Tower.

Faculty, staff and deans from the health center’s seven schools and affiliated organizations, such as Fairview Health Services, attended the State of the Academic Health Center address.

Cerra said innovative medical research initiatives are raising the health center’s national profile. However, it still faces financial challenges as the state reduces University funding.

Cerra’s speech focused on the importance of partnerships such as the recently announced collaboration with the Mayo Clinic.

Retaining and recruiting top faculty has to remain a priority if the health center is to continue on its present course, he said.

University programs need to continue to reach out to the larger state community and assist in meeting their health-care needs, he said. For example, the University is working to train medical professionals in underserved rural communities.

The hands-on training is essential not only to prepare the next generation of health-care professionals but also to help alleviate a shortage of health-care workers across the state, Cerra said.

Cerra also addressed the importance of both public and private funding for the Academic Health Center.

“We are all familiar with the alphabet of federal agencies,” he said, referring to federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health that award research grants.

Grants do not cover all the funding needs of University research, so the investment of private companies such as Medtronic and private donations are essential, he said.

Phyllis Walker, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800, and a group of students, presented Cerra with a cardboard ambulance after the speech.

The ambulance contained a petition signed by “members of a broad spectrum of the University community,” law school student Nick Woomer said.

The students said they are an “ad hoc coalition” that came to show solidarity with members of AFSCME Local 3800, which represents approximately 1,800 full-time University clerical workers.

“We want our health care back,” Walker said.

Cerra thanked the union supporters for coming and expressing their opinion.

“Given the fact that the University is still paying 80 percent of the cost of those health plans, the University has done pretty well,” Cerra said as the audience applauded.