Former Ford staffer visits to talk about staying vital

Public health has proved to be an important issue at the University.

The seventh annual Ned E. Baker Lecture in Public Health took place Friday in Olscamp Hall, featuring speaker David Matthews, the president, chief executive officer and trustee of the Kettering Foundation, a research organization that studies the concerns about public health.

Matthews also served as the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare during the Ford administration.

In the lecture “Engaging the Public in Public Health,” Matthews used a combination of research and story-telling to discuss current issues surrounding public health.

“I’d like to tell you some stories,” he said. “I’m southern, we’re story-tellers.”

He addressed “troubling trends” in public health. First, he said there is a polarization of the political system concerning public health. To illustrate this, he used an example about an agency trying to decide how to fix the problem of smog in their city. He said the polarization within the organization about how to remedy the situation almost shut it down.

One member of the organization decided to hold forums and tell the public about the problem and the possible solutions so they can have an input on what should be done.

“It proved that, when informed, the public can make a reasonable decision,” Matthews said.

Next, he said there needs to be an increasing awareness of the limits of technology in medicine.

“Some diseases are not responsive to even our best technology,” he said. Through another story he showed that holding town meetings and informing the public about common health problems and preventative options can help reverse trends.

Matthews expressed the importance of including the public in public health decisions and education them on the issues.

“The public is a citizenry that have to be engaged, it is not out there pre-existent,” he said.

L. Fleming Fallon, professor at the University and Ned E. Baker Lecture Advisory Committee chair, said Matthews’ lecture delivered an important message.

“He shared the importance of getting people to think rather than telling them what to think,” Fallon said.

Aubrey Whewell, former University student, now works for the American Cancer Society. She came to the lecture as a way to continue her education in public health, but thought the lecture could have been better.

“I liked the story-telling,” Whewell said, “but I would have liked a little more guidance on the issues he discussed.”