Monday, February 8, 2021

By Jackie Curnick, Staff Councilor Organizational Representative for the College of Public Health

Dr. Gerard Clancy returned to his hometown of Iowa City in 2020 after 19 years in Tulsa, Okla. In Tulsa, he was a university president, dean, and health advocate. He comes to the University of Iowa as the Senior Associate Dean for External Affairs for the Carver College of Medicine and a consult liaison psychiatrist in the UI Hospital. This allows him to understand the issues facing staff, students, faculty, and patients, using the insight in his work with university external affairs.

Clancy presented at the University of Iowa Staff Council meeting in January 2021 and discussed COVID-19 and its impacts on mental health, and how Black and Brown people have been marginalized across the country in health issues. In 2005, his work on health equity began in Tulsa, where there are stark differences in health outcomes and life expectancy by neighborhood and race. At the time, Tulsans with mental illnesses died 27 years earlier than the general population. He started to work in North Tulsa, providing programming and care for a part of the city that had been left out of most health infrastructure. The work improved life expectancy in the area by three years.

Though our own community may not be as segregated when it comes to health care access, there are still very real health equity concerns. “Hispanic and black community members experience much higher rates of getting COVID, higher rates of hospitalizations, and severe complications from it as well,” Clancy said.

The University of Iowa has been responding to some of the most serious cases of COVID-19 in the region. Clancy said: “The University of Iowa has done a good job of being able to develop such a breadth of specialties and subspecialties that pretty much we can handle anything that comes.” The UI Hospital ranks third in the nation for transfers to the hospital. Dr. Clancy credits part of this success to the strong community ties the institution has throughout the region, including 2,800 graduate physicians practicing in the state.

Now, as the country faces a reckoning on racial disparities in our health care systems, the University of Iowa and UI Health Care also must understand the problem and take action to solve it. Amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, the University of Iowa Health Care had a series of listening sessions with Black and Brown staff, residents, students, and faculty. It also formed task forces that focused on health disparities and racism in the workplace, recruitment and retention of diverse workforce, and culture and environment of the institution.

Dr. Clancy is a member of the Environment and Climate Committee of the DEI Task Force  and he is excited about the progress the group has made in driving an actionable mission. “I really am feeling a sense of fulfillment around diversity equity and inclusion, from what I learned in Tulsa and working with an entire community that had been underserved and be able to make progress on that. I hope that my skills can be helpful to the university,” he said.

“Staff make the university go. They really do. What I love about coming back here is the dedication of the staff to the mission of the university, to the students, to the care that we deliver to the state of Iowa. The staff are right there for really being a strong part of the horsepower of the university.”