By Ben McNeely
Cabarrus Health Alliance announced it will launch the Public Health Research Institute at the North Carolina Research Campus.
With financial help from Dole Food Co. owner David Murdock, the health alliance “will seek to enhance and develop joint public health research opportunities between Cabarrus Health Alliance and the North Carolina Research Campus through collaborative relationships with university, corporate and community partners,” according to a release.
“Public health never really gets to the forefront of anything,” said Public Health Director Fred Pilkington. “This says a lot about the role of public health at the research campus.”
The institute will, primarily, work with the existing university partners at the research campus, like UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University. This will also push the health alliance’s efforts to become a Model Public Health Agency, where other public health departments across the country look for best practices in public health, Pilkington said.
Paige Waldrop will be the institute’s first executive director. Pilkington said she would be the day-to-day contact between the health alliance, the research campus and the universities.
“My first big goal is to get the board of directors organized and have an initial meeting early in 2009,” Waldrop said. “That will be the time to set a clear direction for the institute.”
The board of directors would help guide the institute in its research activities and help with fundraising. Representatives from UNC-Chapel Hill and Appalachian State University have already agreed to sit on the board of directors, Pilkington said.
The health alliance is currently partnering with staff with the MURDOCK Study and with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Public Health and the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. Along with other physicians in the area, the health alliance is helping to recruit participants, and will be a testing site, for the MURDOCK Study.
In addition to the research activities, the institute is planning the KIWEE Institute — which stands for Kids Involved in Wellness, Education and Enrichment. It will be a child care center, located on the research campus, focused on fighting childhood obesity. As a partnership between the health alliance and the UNC School of Public Health, the institute would use the latest scientific information in its curriculum, Pilkington said.
“This is where we implement the best practices in health and nutrition,” Pilkington said, “and we can track what works, what doesn’t and predict future performance in children.”
Murdock and Pilkington started talks about the public health institute in September and it was officially established Nov. 1. Murdock gave a “very generous” donation to the health alliance to start the institute, but Pilkington declined to say how much Murdock donated.
“I promised not to say,” Pilkington said. “It would be up to him to disclose that.”
The health alliance has renderings and plans for its new building, to be located on the corner of Dale Earnhardt Boulevard and Mooresville Road — at the current site of the Sherwin-Williams paint store. As part of the self-financing bond package the city of Kannapolis and Cabarrus County are pursuing, the health alliance will have $15 million to purchase land and construct a new building.
The self-financing bonds are expected to be sold in February or March, Pilkington said. The economic downturn has further delayed taking the bonds to market.
In addition to the $1.5 billion pledged to build the research campus, Murdock has given $35 million to Duke to jump-start the MURDOCK Study, which proposes to study the genetic causes of human disease and to develop individual treatments. He also has invested $33 million into a NovaRX, a San Diego-based drug company headed by his son, Justin. The company is developing a vaccine for lung cancer.