Akron Roundtable Speech | Office of the President | Kent State University

Akron Roundtable Speech

Oct. 16, 2014

As a new Northeast Ohioan, and serving as an academic leader in one of our region’s more than 20 colleges and universities, I have been looking forward to spending time with you today.  I have heard so many wonderful things about the Roundtable, and I know you are an audience that cares deeply about this region that I now join you in calling home.  That also includes everyone listening via Kent State’s nationally acclaimed public radio station, WKSU and the Akron Digital Network.

It is really great to see so much Blue and Gold in the room today. As I have been engaged in an extensive listening tour during my early months on the job, I have been very impressed by Kent State alumni who care so deeply about their alma mater.  We have over 23,000 alums in Summit County and well over 112,000 Kent Staters in Northeast Ohio.  As most of you are aware, graduates from Kent State serve the region in so many areas from fashion and design to biosciences and healthcare. And they have contributed significantly in service to the region – both professionally and philanthropically.

From insights I have gained in these first few months, I was looking forward to delivering a strong message about the wonderful opportunities I see here in the region and the role that colleges and universities play as drivers to a vibrant and cool future.  I hope you will invite me back to share those thoughts with you at some point in time. 

But instead of delivering those remarks today, I thought you might appreciate an update regarding what we have been experiencing at Kent State and in Northeast Ohio over the last 24 hours.

As demonstrated by recent events, it is apparent that our world is connected as never before. From Tom Friedman’s flat world to the world market exchange, it is clear that our lives are globally connected and that events on one side of the world can have a dramatic impact thousands of miles away on the other side of the globe.  The recent events of the spread of Ebola are evidence of that reality.

To bring everyone up to date, we found out yesterday that the second nurse diagnosed with Ebola, who helped care for Thomas Eric Duncan in Texas, is related to three Kent State employees. Amber Vinson is one of our own  – a 2006 and 2008 graduate of Kent State and a graduate of Firestone High School right here in Summit County.

She was not showing any symptoms of the disease when she traveled to Northeast Ohio on Friday, October 10, to visit family. She stayed with her family in Summit County during her visit, and returned on a flight from Cleveland Hopkins to Dallas-Fort Worth on Monday, October 13. 

On Tuesday morning, when she was back in Dallas, she entered the hospital. Yesterday morning, test results for Ebola came back positive and a family member, who works at Kent State, notified us.

I want to reiterate, she did NOT have symptoms while she was in Northeast Ohio. She is a nurse and she was carefully monitoring her own condition. As you all know by now, Ebola is only contagious when the patient is symptomatic. Our public health experts assure me that it is very unlikely that she infected anyone here in Northeast Ohio – especially those with whom she had casual contact such as being on an airplane with them.

Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, we are working closely with the local, state and federal public health authorities to make sure we are taking every precaution necessary to protect our Kent State community – even though the patient was never on our campus.

We have asked her family members who work at Kent State to remain off campus and self-monitor according to the CDC’s recommended protocol.

We have informed our entire campus community and have posted updates on our website. We sent out a written notice and held meetings with our staff yesterday, to answer their questions and address any concerns they may have.

We proactively informed the news media and held a news conference yesterday to answer their questions. 

We are providing regular updates on our website, and are monitoring the news online. Our staff is correcting misinformation when they can.

And we’re tweeting information to keep everyone informed. In fact, you can follow me on Twitter @PresBWarren and get the latest information.

As our medical director explained to the media yesterday, it is helpful to consider the circles of risk to place our current circumstance in perspective.  At the inner circle is the patient who has received a positive test for Ebola.  In the next circle are the individuals who had direct contact with the patient and who face some risk of exposure.  However, the Ebola virus, while highly contagious, can only be transmitted to another individual through direct contact with bodily fluids.  In the next circle are individuals who have had contact with individuals who had direct contact with the patient.  These individuals are at a minimal risk of exposure, according to the CDC.  And it is this outer circle that represents the Kent State community members who came in contact with the Kent State employees who are family members of Ms. Vinson.

On a personal note, I am very proud of this young woman. Our nursing graduates are trained to provide excellent care to patients, and we are proud of Amber for caring so diligently for her patient despite the significant risks to her own health.

I hope all of you in the audience here today will hold Amber and her family in your thoughts during this difficult time. We all wish her a speedy and complete recovery.

We all can be comforted by the fact that we live in a region that is known as a center of world-class healthcare.  Here in Northeast Ohio, we have so many resources available in these times when we are facing life-threatening diseases and vexing challenges.

As home to more than sixty hospitals, Northeast Ohio has been aptly described as a major healthcare hub.  Our wealth of health-related assets includes world-class health care systems like Summa, Akron General, University Hospitals, Akron Children’s Hospital and Cleveland Clinic.  Those assets also include the region’s universities. Each of us – University of Akron, Kent State and NEOMED -- is partnering to produce a twenty-first century health and human services workforce, and we are pioneering technologies and treatment for diseases and conditions from cancer and heart disease to depression and mental illness.

And I know from my short time here that Kent State graduates are playing an important role in these healthcare systems that serve us so well in Northeast Ohio. I have met some of you and I look forward to meeting more of you who serve our community as nurses and physicians, or in leadership roles at these important institutions.

I am proud of the contributions Kent State makes to this great Northeast Ohio health system. In fact, our data show that 43 percent of bedside nurses in the region are Kent State graduates.

The events of the last few days emphasize the importance of not only quality healthcare but also the equally important role played by public health officials and researchers. The development of new medical treatments and cures would not happen without the health-related research that is on-going in our great national research universities and healthcare systems. Behind every discovery of a new medicine and treatment are thousands of people who were involved in health-related research. Thanks to the advances in medical care and public health, we now live on average 10 years longer than in the 1960's and 20 years longer than in the 1930's. New drugs, new ways to treat old and new illnesses, and new ways to discover and prevent diseases are the result of years of meticulous research and ground-breaking discoveries. And our local research universities are contributing to new knowledge and new discoveries every day.

Likewise, researchers in public health disciplines are tracking the incidence of disease, the spread of disease, and the evidence-based practices that are linked to disease prevention.  Often called the detectives of health care, public health researchers are the behind the scenes heroes that make our world a much safer place.

Public health affects all of us, all of the time. Simple actions we take for granted today such as drinking clean water and breathing clean air, eating a balanced breakfast, or wearing seatbelts, are benefits that we owe to the efforts of a public health system that is dedicated to making good health available to all of us. 

And through our colleges of public health, we are preparing the next generation of professionals who will discover new threats to public health and who will contribute to the resolution of some of the world’s greatest challenges and wicked problems.  For example, Kent State’s College of Public Health is partnering with GOJO Industries to study microbial resistance and social factors in hand hygiene.  For the record, Kent State made a major investment in public health when it created the College of Public Health, one of only two in Ohio.

Finally, at the front line of medical care are the nurses, those individuals who deliver bedside care and comfort to those who are ill and are facing life-threatening challenges.

The needs of society are changing, from people living longer to increasing rates of complex and costly conditions such as diabetes and obesity --requiring a greater community and population health focus.  Nurses are on the frontline and their roles have become more  critical, highly specialized and fully integrated in delivering quality health care.  Our institutions of higher education must prepare our students to fill new roles such as nurse practitioner,  nurse educator and Ph.D. researcher.  We must ensure that our nurses are technologically savvy as well as deeply compassionate – and that is very much our focus at Kent State. 

We are fortunate to live in a country where the best healthcare in the world is available to us. And I am indeed fortunate to be an academic leader in a community that is rich in its collaborations, caring in its support, and filled with talented professionals who lend competent expertise in times of crisis.

With the best advice that we have, from the high quality health professionals in our region, we can be confident that our community is at little to no risk, based on the information we have to date. 

Please know that we take very seriously our role in ensuring the safety and welfare of all of our citizens in this region. We will remain vigilant and will continue to openly communicate to ensure the safety and well-being of our campus and of our surrounding community.

I appreciate your support as evidenced by your presence here today.  As someone new to Northeast Ohio, I am truly grateful for the support of this region.  And I am especially grateful for the  support of my president colleagues.  I have enjoyed conversations and meetings with Presidents Gershen, Scarborough, Varlotta, Tressel, Berkman, and Jones and I look forward to many more of those conversations in the coming year.

Thank you, everyone.

And now I am happy to hear your thoughts and take any questions you may have. And please feel free to ask me about anything. Don’t feel you have to limit your questions to the public health issues I’ve been talking about.