August 6, 2008

Sumaya Receives Top Honor

By Holly Huffman, The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

Aug. 6--The recently fired dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health is receiving a top state honor recognizing those who have significantly improved the health of rural residents.

Dr. Ciro Sumaya, professor and founding dean, will be presented Wednesday with the Marion Zetzman Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Texas Rural Health Association.

The honor comes just days after the Texas A&M System Board of Regents upheld Sumaya's dismissal as dean, a move made by Health Science Center President Nancy Dickey.

"I am just very pleased. What can I say? It's a bright spot in what's been kind of a difficult situation," Sumaya said Tuesday, adding that the award also served to shine a much-needed spotlight on the mission of improving rural health.

Sumaya has been with the School of Rural Public Health since its inception and celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. He was notified in late May that he was being removed from his post because of a need for change.

Regents confirmed his dismissal as dean Friday and authorized Chancellor Mike McKinney to make whatever arrangements were necessary to help Sumaya as he resumed his position as a tenured full professor and an endowed chair holder.

Sumaya will receive the award, jointly sponsored with the University of Texas System, on Wednesday at the Rural Health Association's annual conference in Austin.

Health Science Center officials declined to speak Tuesday about the timing of the award. However, Dr. Roderick McCallum, vice president for academic affairs for the Health Science Center and interim dean at the School of Rural Public Health, released a statement Tuesday recognizing the award's importance.

"As the first school of rural public health in the nation, we are proud that one of our faculty members was honored with the top award from the Texas Rural Health Association," McCallum said. "This honor reflects on the school and faculty's commitment to serving rural communities."

Sumaya knew and worked with Zetzman and said he passionately advocated for rural Texas until his death in 1996.

The award was named for Zetzman because of his longtime involvement in rural health care services and workforce issues, School of Rural Public Health officials said. He also served as the first board president of the state's Center for Rural Health Initiatives, which since has been renamed the Office of Rural Communities Affairs.

Sumaya said he still was working with administrators to determine where to focus his future research efforts. He said he was leaning to public health and the public health care workforce -- timely topics with which he became familiar serving as a member of the Clinton task force on national health care reform and president of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.

He posed the following questions: Are there enough health professionals? Are they in the right specialties based on population needs? Are they distributed evenly in urban and rural areas?

"Obviously, the answer is no," Sumaya said, stressing the need for health professionals who can work with diverse populations. "Are we handling all the people, not just those that are educated and middle-class? That's an area of special appeal to me."


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