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OHSU Taps New Vice Provost for Rural Health

   Portland, Ore.

Karen Whitaker has been named to the newly created position of vice provost for rural health at OHSU.

"Creating this vice provost position makes a strong statement about OHSU's commitment to rural health in Oregon. Karen Whitaker's excellent leadership skills and knowledge of rural Oregonian's health needs will further the mission of OHSU and the Office of Rural Health to improve the quality of care for all Oregonians," said Lesley Hallick, Ph.D., OHSU provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Whitaker has been director of the state's Office of Rural Health, located at OHSU, since 1990. She has worked to ensure that dollars flowing from both state and federal coffers improve the quality and availability of health care for rural Oregonians. Last summer, Whitaker was given purview over similar efforts by OHSU.

As vice provost for rural health and director of the OHSU Center for Rural Health, Whitaker is charged with ensuring that Oregonians across the state benefit both from OHSU's current resources and from The Oregon Opportunity, the $500 million statewide public-private partnership to make Oregon a leader in biomedical research.

The center encompasses both the Office of Rural Health, which was established in 1979 as a state agency, and the university-funded Rural Health Research Institute. The reorganization leveraged the two efforts into one, more simple administrative structure. The new vice provost position helps bring most of OHSU's rural health activities under one umbrella to better coordinate services.

In her new post, Whitaker continues to administer public funds for rural health care while adding the task of coordinating the availability and application of OHSU resources for Oregon's rural communities. In both roles, she consults intensively with rural hospitals and practitioners. "My job is to ensure that the resources available across the whole university are also available to people in rural areas," Whitaker said.

One example: the center's establishment of the Oregon Rural Practice-Based Research Network (ORPRN), which links OHSU researchers to clinics around the state in an effort to investigate health care questions specific to rural, community-based medical practices. She will also work closely with the four Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), which are located throughout Oregon.

If successful, Whitaker notes, the Oregon Opportunity will not only improve people's health in rural areas, but also stimulate economic development. Currently, the center's Health Education and Research Oregon Network (HERON) is helping rural communities upgrade communications technology that is vital to attracting health care-related industry. "There's no reason we can't locate biotechnology initiatives in rural areas," said Whitaker, "but we've got to have good connectivity."

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