UPMC-Highmark: An unusual cause for the next health director

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Allegheny County has hired a promising health director in Karen A. Hacker, who heads a public health research and education organization near Boston.

Some of the goals at the Institute for Community Health in Cambridge, Mass., where she is executive director, are also goals of the health department: promoting health education, developing action programs and forging links among health care organizations. We think she'll fit right in.

With a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School, the Harvard Medical School associate professor will soon be engaged in the public health challenges of subpar air and water, restaurant filth, West Nile virus, smoking, obesity and others.

But if she's really interested in having a positive impact on the Pittsburgh region, Dr. Hacker cannot avoid jumping into Public Health Issue No. 1: the termination of the service contract at the end of 2014 between UPMC, the region's largest hospital network, and Highmark, the region's largest health insurer.

This might seem an unusual issue to involve a county public health chief, but the war between the corporate suites threatens to do far-reaching harm to health and health care costs in Western Pennsylvania. So while we welcome Dr. Hacker and look forward to her arrival in September, we also hope she will enlist in the effort to find a solution to this looming public health crisis.

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