UH Hilo Launches New Rural Health Center

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The University of Hawaii at Hilo is launching a major new initiative this fall, the Center for Rural Health Science. It will draw together physicians, pharmacists, nurses and other health care providers to solve rural health problems in Hawai‘i and throughout the Pacific by means of research, education, community service and policy change.

The Center, which will be housed in the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy, was announced by Chancellor Donald Straney at the College’s White Coat Ceremony on October 17.


“This Center is an extraordinary opportunity for UH Hilo to help improve life in the rural communities of Hawai‘i through new and better models of health care,” Straney said. “The Center will have the resources, the expertise and the partners to succeed. Our College of Pharmacy collaborates effectively with hospitals and health care providers all over the state, and UH Hilo’s School of Nursing has enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to support the Center’s work. This is an important way for UH Hilo to contribute to improving the health status of our region.”

The founding director will be Dr. Karen Pellegrin, director of strategic planning and continuing education in the College of Pharmacy, and principal investigator of a $16 million federal Beacon Community grant, whose goal is to achieve widespread use of health information technology that measurably improves health care quality, cost-efficiency, and population health in Hawai‘i County.

According to Pellegrin, “It is a great honor to serve as founding director of the Center for Rural Health Science. This is a new initiative, but with over $20 million in current grant funding and a solid staffing base, we will hit the ground running. I have no doubt we will help to improve the way we think about and practice health care. I know the citizens of Hawai‘i will see real benefits from our work.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi expressed pride in welcoming the Center to the University and to the island of Hawai‘i.

“The expertise and capacity of our educators, physicians and our health care community are perfectly suited to complement the center,” he said. “We can and we will improve access to health care in rural areas and positively transform our health care system. The Center for Rural Health Science is the beginning of that transformation.”

Dr. John Pezzuto, dean of the College of Pharmacy, noted that “rural communities in Hawai`i experience many of the same problems as other rural communities in America. There is a shortage of physicians, pharmacists and other clinicians, and hospitals struggle to stay financially viable. These challenges are more complex in the remote island state of Hawai`i.

“There are many preventative strategies we can implement that will improve the health of our citizens,” he added. “Equally important are health information technology, care re-design and payment reform. We are extremely pleased to support this new Center, and I can guarantee the strength and talent of the College of Pharmacy will assure its success.”

The White Coat Ceremony welcomed the College of Pharmacy’s fourth cohort of students. Ninety students recited the “Oath of a Pharmacist” before their peers, professors, community members and families. Guest speakers included Pat DeLeon, Senator Daniel K. Inouye’s chief-of-staff, Mayor Billy Kenoi and Representative Jerry Chang.

For more information about the Center for Rural Health Science or the College of Pharmacy, call (808) 933-2909.


Alyson Kakugawa-Leong
Director Media Relations
University of Hawai`i at Hilo
200 W. Kawili Street
Hilo, HI  96720-4091
(808) 974-7642 (ph)
(808) 974-7714 (fax)