Health Security Offices to support campus communities

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public relations | June 16, 2020

Image with caption: Ted Cieslak, M.D., UNMC interim executive director for health security

Ted Cieslak, M.D., UNMC interim executive director for health security

Both UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha will establish an Office of Health Security to promote and protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff on issues related to COVID-19 and other public health topics of concern.

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Jane Meza, Ph.D., UNO interim executive director for health security

The offices will be led by interim executive directors for health security -- Jane Meza, Ph.D., at UNO and Ted Cieslak, M.D., at UNMC -- who will work collaboratively across the UNMC/UNO campuses and with the UNMC Global Center for Health Security to provide timely information and manage access to key public health resources.

Dr. Meza is associate vice chancellor for global engagement at UNMC and UNO, and she will continue to serve in this role while serving as interim executive director for health security.

Dr. Cieslak is a pediatrician and infectious diseases specialist and previously served as associate professor of epidemiology in the UNMC College of Public Health, as well as medical director of the National Quarantine Unit and co-director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit.

"The Office of Health Security will be a centralized and coordinating hub devoted to the public health and safety of all our students, faculty and staff," said UNMC and UNO Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D. "With the appointments of Drs. Meza and Cieslak, each campus also will have dedicated leadership as we prepare for in-person learning, teaching and working this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic."

The goal of the Office of Health Security is to:

  • Ensure institutional compliance with local, state and national laws, policies, recommendations and/or guidelines for public health and COVID-19.
  • Serve as the coordinating hub for developing and implementing campus policies and procedures that help to ensure the wellness and safety of faculty, staff and students with regard to public health and COVID-19.
  • Ensure accessibility of all resources devoted to public health and safety for individuals from traditionally underserved communities and individuals with disabilities. Communicate public health messaging and policies, in collaboration with university communications.
  • Serve as a practicum site for public health students.
  • Coordinate and support campus public health and wellness strategy development.

In the short term, the interim directors will help each campus's pandemic recovery teams plan for in-person teaching, learning and working by enacting items identified in UNMC's Higher Education Pandemic Mitigation and Response Guide. The resource, which has been shared nationally, was developed to provide best practices and recommendations to minimize the risk of COVID-19.

"The pandemic has highlighted areas of strength and opportunity for the UNMC and UNO campuses," said Dan Shipp, Ed.D., vice chancellor for student success at UNMC and UNO. "An office focused on health security -- now and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic -- will further ensure that we are doing all we can to ensure the wellness and safety of our community."

The Office of Health Security will work closely with the Office of Academic Affairs to ensure continuation of academic programs in a safe and effective manner, as well as local public health agencies to ensure the campuses are compliant with the laws, policies, recommendations and/or guidelines for public health. The new office also will provide practical experiences for UNMC students and collaborate with the Nebraska Medicine-UNMC Health Center and the UNO School of Health and Kinesiology, which houses the public health undergraduate program.

"Investing in public health yields lifelong benefits to our community and strengthens our health care systems," said Dele Davies, M.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. "It also enables us to more quickly adapt and evolve when issues emerge. This new office will help guide our public health effort to ensure safety as our students, faculty and staff return to campus now and in the fall."

Dr. CIeslak said he looks forward to serving as interim executive director. "Having spent the past few months working with individuals from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess cruise ship in our National Quarantine Unit, I'm very much looking forward to shifting focus toward our key resource-our students, faculty and staff," he said. "I'm honored to be able to work with Dr. Gold and his team as we get back safely to the business of education."

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