Letter from the Director

Balmes portrait

John R. Balmes

As was true for our state, nation, and the world, 2011 was a year of challenges for COEH.  A big challenge came with Marion Gillen’s retirement as Deputy Director last summer.  Marion first joined COEH in 1989  as head of the Continuing Education Program at the Labor Occupational Health Program.  She then went back to graduate school in the Occupational Health Nursing Program at UCSF where she earned a PhD and eventually became head of the program.  While at UCSF, Marion did outstanding research in the area of occupational injury, investigating determinants of risk for injury and disability in the health care and construction industries, and always working to reduce risk by improving the safety culture.  Marion was a superb mentor to many nursing students at UCSF, and she continued to work with students after joining me at COEH.  She was justly proud of the Short Term Educational Experiences for Research in Environmental Health (STEER) program that she ran at UC Berkeley for several years before her retirement.  Marion was the glue that kept COEH together for the past five years and I miss her greatly, for she has not only been an excellent colleague, but a dear friend.

Fortunately, with challenge comes opportunity, and I have been able to recruit two very talented people to help me run both COEH and the NIOSH Education and Research Center grant.  My long-time co-worker in the UCSF Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program, Patty Quinlan, has become the Deputy Director of COEH and the NIOSH ERC, and she is now responsible for much of the administrative work that Marion did.  Robin Baker, the former Director of the LOHP, has become the Director of Research to Practice for COEH.  Since Marion’s departure, Robin has been leading the communications and outreach activities for the Center, including our efforts for continued federal support of occupational health and safety training and the production of Bridges.  It is a testament to the depth of our bench in the COEH family of programs that I could find two such wonderful colleagues to work with in pursuit of a new vision for COEH.

Of course, the biggest challenge that COEH faces is whether federal support for the Education and Research Centers (ERC) will continue.  We at the Northern California ERC have joined with the 16 other ERCs and the eight Agricultural Safety and Health Centers to try to convince the Obama administration and Congress that continuing to support these Centers is vital to maintaining the national infrastructure for training of occupational health and safety professionals.  The good news is that funding for the current year appears to have survived the budget axe, but long-term support remains in jeopardy.

Because we cannot count on continued NIOSH support for our Center, we have begun some hard thinking about what a future without such support might look like for our programs.  The Occupational Health Nursing Program is as strong as ever and could clearly continue.  The Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program currently has a Health Research Services Administration grant that could potentially be renewed and is in discussion with another possible source of training support.  The Ergonomics Program is another strong program that will attract graduate students without NIOSH support.  The Industrial Hygiene Program is considering the development of a new focus in green chemistry to take advantage of a new strength of COEH.  In the coming months, we will be asking our colleagues within and friends outside the Center to help us envision our role in the training of occupational and environmental health professionals in the future, with or without NIOSH support.

back to top