Woman of honor

Donna Shalala, believes the Israeli pediatric healthcare system can serve as a model for the US.

Shalala_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While the Israeli medical system is going through some stormy times as doctors threaten to intensify sanctions, the Rambam Summit 2011, a two-day medical conference to be held at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center on May 30 and 31, is set to investigate and highlight issues that are critically important here and around the world.
This year’s summit focuses on pediatric health in the 21st century – a field in which, in many ways, the Israeli system could be a model for the world.
According to Prof. Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and the winner of this year’s Rambam Award for her long and distinguished career in public service, there are several key issues in children’s health care.
“Pediatric health care is critical to the entire world,” she said in an interview from her office in Miami last week.
“Investing in children’s health is the best investment any society can make. Immunizing children is one of the best investments in the future.”
Shalala has made this issue a priority throughout her long and distinguished career. During the Clinton administration, Shalala served as US secretary of health and human services for eight years, pioneering health and welfare reform and becoming the longest-serving HHS secretary in America. Under her term of service, health insurance was made available to millions of children, and immunization rates were at their highest in the history of the US. In 2007, president George W. Bush chose Shalala to co-chair, with Sen. Bob Dole, the Commission on Care for Returning Wounded Warriors and their integration back into civilian life. In June 2008, Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s most prestigious civilian award.
Besides attending the Rambam Summit, Shalala, who has visited Israel several times, will receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Shalala has more than four dozen honorary degrees, including from the University of Haifa and the Technion, and a host of other honors, including the 1992 National Public Service Award and the 1994 Glamour magazine Woman of the Year Award. In 1992, Business Week named her one of the top five managers in higher education, and in 2005, she was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by US News & World Report. In 2010, she received the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights for her work in helping to develop medicine and democracy in South Africa.
Shalala has been in her current post at the University of Miami since 2001.
“I’m very familiar with the Israeli healthcare system,” says Shalala, adding that a major issue in children’s health is not just “making sure that there is high-quality medical care, but that it is available to those who need it. Lots of countries have world-class care, but those who need it can’t get it.”
A problem she sees in the US is that many of those who work have no health coverage for themselves or their children. “People think that all the uninsured don’t work, but that’s a myth,” she explains.
“The medical system is too focused on acute care, and we need to focus on children’s health,” she adds.
Israel’s Tipat Halav, or well-baby, clinics are the kind of care Shalala would like to see in the US and around the world. As parents here know, Tipat Halav clinics provide immunizations and basic care for babies and young children. Parents can enroll their children in Tipat Halav even if they themselves do not have health insurance.
Other issues Shalala thinks are important are “childhood diseases. It’s also key to have a generation of specialists who are knowledgeable about children and children’s lives, about teaching children to eat well and not to start smoking. And to educate parents as well, of course.”
She is “encouraged by the progress that has been made” in the US in health care and looks forward to the day when the medical system is overhauled and there is affordable health care available for all.
Five other other Rambam Awards are being given this year to people who have made contributions to children’s health and the Israeli medical system: Gila Almagor Agmon, Harvey Krueger, Nochi Dankner, Laura Wolfson Townsley and the Fishman Family.
The conference includes lectures on topics such as stem-cell research, and visits to the Fortified Emergency Trauma Center, the Legacy Heritage Clinical Research Institute and the construction site of the future Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital.