Lerner Center Director Thomas Dennison
As such, he'll be in charge of the Center's research agenda and will set its priorities.
Dennison has had a long and successful career in public health, both as a professional and academic. He's been a hospital administrator and a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He's published on nursing home care and on benchmarking public health programs.
He currently directs Maxwell's program on Health Services Management and Policy, is associate-director of the Central New York Master of Public Health program and is a senior research associated at Maxwell's Center for Policy Research. He also chairs the Onondaga County Health Commission.
We had a chance to catch up with Professor Dennison to ask a few questions about his plans for the Lerner Center. Here's some of what we learned.
Question: The Center is brand new. How do you go about setting its mission and priorities?
Dennison: It's been a fun and dynamic process. Fortunately, the Center's benefactors, Sid ('53) and Helaine Lerner, have a set of core values that align perfectly with those of the University as a whole and myself as an individual.
The Lerners' goal, simply and powerfully, is to improve public health by working to reduce instances of chronic, preventable disease.
In other words, they seek to do good, in much the way that Chancellor Cantor has positioned the University as an instrument of the public good through the vision of Scholarship in Action.
Crucially, the Lerners believe that the way to do good is to work with people, to foster collaborations and partnerships, and to work in support of people's own health goals.
They've created an effective health promotion tool in Healthy Monday, yet they are open to other approaches, and they have positioned Healthy Monday itself as a fun and engaging program, not a didactic one.
So, in the broadest sense, it was clear from the beginning that the Lerner Center would work to do good in the community, specifically by engaging people in support of their health goals. We want to move the needle, and we want to evaluate the impact of our work so that we can create models other communities can adopt. We're looking to make a splash, locally and nationally, by making a difference.
Question: So how does that translate into programming?
Dennison: There's a couple of things we know we want to do and will do. We want to establish Healthy Monday programming on campus and throughout Onondaga County, mostly by supporting organizations that wish to embrace the concept.
For instance, we'll partner with SUNY Upstate University Hospital, which has announced it will create Healthy Monday programming on its campus. We've begun to sign up area restaurants to participate in Meatless Monday as well. And, on campus, we're working with Recreational Services and Food Services to rollout both Move It Monday and Meatless Monday programming.
We'll do more, but we're going to have the public itself set those priorities. We're working with CNYSpeaks to develop an engagement strategy to solicit public input on how we can best serve their needs. We'll use that input to create RFPs that community organizations can then respond to if they'd like to partner with us in addressing a need identified through the engagement process.
Question: So, the public itself will direct some of the Center's funding?
Dennison: Exactly. Each individual citizen is the expert on what kinds of support, motivation, education and encouragement will allow them to make healthy changes. We intend to tap into that wisdom before deciding how best to leverage our expertise to make a difference. More details on the engagement process will be coming soon.
Question: What are the best sources for additional information about the Center?
Dennison: Our Web site, http://lernercenter.syr.edu,is a great place to start. I'd also encourage people to visit the site for Healthy Monday Syracuse, as well as the national Healthy Monday Campaigns platform.
Both sites offer many resources for starting a Monday Campaign at your organization. If you do start a Monday Campaign, but sure to let us know so we can help you get the most of the effort. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Questions: What kinds of support would you offer to an organization looking to start a Healthy Monday campaign?
Dennison: The short answer is: It depends. Largely, it depends on how much the organization wants to partner with us. No one needs our permission to do this, and, in fact, the power of it lies in its simplicity and its "open source" approach to spreading the campaign virally.
But if you do connect with us, we can help your organization promote the effort, get recognized for it and evaluate it. And we can help direct you to Healthy Monday resources.