Claude Earl Fox, a public health physician who has headed federal and state agencies in a nearly three-decade career dedicated to equal access to health care, has been appointed director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute.
Fox will be the first permanent director of the institute. Its aim is to better focus the efforts of urban health experts from throughout Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System on the serious community health problems in East Baltimore and other sections of the city.
"Dr. Fox is an extraordinarily creative and energetic leader in public health," said William R. Brody, president of the university. "He is deeply committed to close partnerships with the community. That commitment and his extensive experience with public health issues at the local and national levels make him the ideal person to move this vitally important initiative forward."
Brody established the institute last year, and the university and health system have allocated $4.5 million in funding for its first five years. He acted on the recommendation of the Urban Health Council, a group of Hopkins faculty and staff, community leaders and city officials he organized to report on how Johns Hopkins could more effectively coordinate its many community health efforts in East Baltimore.
"The opportunity to help Hopkins step up to the plate and get even more involved in urban health is very exciting," Fox said. "Making sure that no city resident lacks good access to early primary and preventive services and trying to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities is a tremendous challenge and opportunity."
Baltimore's inner city communities, like those in many cities around the country, face major problems of substance abuse, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic diseases. Fox said his job will be to help Johns Hopkins better focus its research, teaching and clinical expertise on these problems, in close cooperation with the communities themselves and with other partners from government, business and foundations.
"Hopkins has the opportunity not only to make a difference in Baltimore but really to make a difference nationally on issues of urban health," he said. "We need to identify best practices, things that really work within our cities, and further involve and engage Hopkins faculty and students in working in Baltimore."
Fox served for the past four years as administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the second-largest public health agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The $6 billion-a-year agency works to improve access to health care and supports thousands of programs and clinical sites nationwide, including Baltimore's Chase Braxton Clinic AIDS program and Healthy Start infant mortality program. Before heading HRSA, he was a deputy assistant secretary of HHS and, from 1993 to 1995, regional health administrator for HHS in Philadelphia.
"We are indeed fortunate to have recruited an individual with such breadth of experience and depth of commitment to urban health issues," said Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System.
"Bringing someone of Earl Fox's stature here speaks to the serious intent of Hopkins to make this program a success," said Thomas O'Toole, an assistant professor of medicine who has been interim director of the institute. "He has great sensitivity to the issues and has demonstrated an ability to navigate complex systems to get the job done."
"Dr. Fox's research knowledge relating to health disparities of inner city populations is a real asset and will help us to improve the health outcomes of our East Baltimore residents," said Colene Daniel, vice president of the Johns Hopkins Health System for corporate services and community health. She co-chairs the Urban Health Council with O'Toole.
Members of the community who participated in the search process praised Fox's appointment.
"He was very impressive, very knowledgeable. He has a progressive attitude and he understands the needs of the community," said Neil Muldrow, president of the Development Credit Fund Inc.
"He has a good idea of what the community needs as part of the Urban Health Institute," said Michelle Brown of the Clearinghouse for a Healthy Community. "He will be easily accessible to people in the community who have concerns."
Fox was state health officer in Alabama from 1985 to 1992 and, before that, deputy state health officer for Mississippi, his home state. In both positions, he was responsible for a wide range of services, from infant mortality programs to home health care to epidemiology, and paid particular attention to issues of equal access. In Alabama, he pursued funding sources and cost savings that allowed his department to serve thousands of additional patients.
Fox is a 1968 graduate of Mississippi College, earned his medical degree at the University of Mississippi in 1972 and received a master of public health degree from the University of North Carolina in 1975. He spent one year of his pediatric residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in 1978-79, and has lived in Baltimore for nearly six years while commuting to Washington.
Fox officially will begin work July 1, though he will be spending time at Johns Hopkins and in the community before then.