SPH news

Posted Date: August 15, 2016


In a study of 1.2 million patients treated at 292 Texas hospitals over a one year time period during 2013, Liam O’Neill, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Management and Policy at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, and a student cohort have found that hospitals with mostly private rooms had a lower risk for central-line patient infections, acquired through tubes or catheters used for testing or to carry nutrients or medicine through the bloodstream.

Dr. O’Neill recently presented this data at the Service System Engineering Conference at the School of Economics and Management at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, where local media covered his talk.

“The findings showed that regardless of whether patients were assigned to a private room,” Dr. O’Neill said, “those who were cared for at hospitals that offered a higher percentage of private rooms overall measured lower in hospital acquired infections.”

“This supports using the ‘percentage of private rooms’ ratio as a structural measure of hospital quality,” he said.

Dr. O’Neill also recently shared these findings at the AcademyHealth Conference in Boston, a national organization for health services and policy research professionals.

SPH Health Management and Policy doctoral student Sae-Hwan Park has been a partner in this study.

Posted Date: August 11, 2016

UNTHSC School of Public Health Interim Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD“Our graduates are doing incredible things to make the world a better, safer, healthier place,” said Dennis Thombs, PhD, newly-named Dean of the UNTHSC School of Public Health.

After serving for the last year as Interim Dean, Dr. Thombs was selected from among a pool of national candidates as the leader who will move the SPH forward.

“It’s an exciting time to be in public health,” he said. “We have many opportunities ahead, and so many ways we can impact quality education and outcomes for students, the community and our research partners. As we continue to build our ties locally, we also seek to expand the national and global reach of the SPH.”

Over the last year, Dr. Thombs has met with community leaders and stakeholders, advisory boards, alumni, students, faculty and staff, university leadership, employers and industry colleagues, listening and sharing ideas.

“What we learned from employers is that they need well-rounded public health professionals, leaders who can take on big challenges and wear a lot of ‘different hats’ to help solve some of the most pressing public health concerns facing our world today,” he said.

“When you think about all the career opportunities available – roles addressing health disparities in disadvantaged communities, community-based research, health care access, the environmental and social determinants of population health, health policy and law, as examples – it’s easy to see why public health is so critical today,” Dr. Thombs said. “Here in North Texas, we see public health in action every day, working on Zika and West Nile virus surveillance, infant mortality and health disparities, disease and injury  prevention, environmental issues like air and water quality, social and behavioral interventions to improve people’s lives … and those are just a few of the ways public health makes an impact.”

Dr. Thombs said he also sees new opportunities coming for MHA graduates in this presidential election year, as they will likely be called on to help shape policy and delivery of programs in a rapidly changing health care environment.

“We also look forward to working with the new allopathic medical school opening in 2017, as well as with our colleagues in TCOM, the School of Pharmacy, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and School of Health Professions,” he said.

Community partners, such as Tarrant County Public Health and the JPS Health System, are crucial in providing students with real-world learning and research opportunities, and Dr. Thombs looks forward to strengthening these local partnerships.

“Our mission is to keep building those relationships, to make them even stronger,” he said.

Dr. Thombs has been with the School of Public Health since 2010, having served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health; Acting Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Director of the school’s MPH community health program; and Acting Director for the Texas Prevention Institute.

His career was shaped early on by an interest in substance abuse and addictive behaviors, and he has made major research contributions over the years to the study of alcohol and drug use in the adolescent and young adult population. He has authored more than 85 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals, and is the author of one of the leading textbooks on addiction, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors, published by the Guilford Press, and now in its fourth edition.  His research has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education.

Posted Date: August 8, 2016

UNTHSC School of Public Health Interim Dean Dennis Thombs, PhDDr. Dennis Thombs has been named as the new dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth.

Dr. Thombs has been serving as interim dean since August 2015 and was selected for the position from among a nationwide search of candidates.

He has been with UNT Health Science Center since 2010 and has previously served as professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health; acting associate dean for academic affairs; director of the school’s MPH community health program; and acting director for the Texas Prevention Institute.

“We welcome Dr. Thombs to this new position and look forward to his leadership in moving the School of Public Health to prominence,” said Dr. Thomas Yorio, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and research.

During his career, Dr. Thombs has served on the faculty at the University of Florida, Kent State University and the State University of New York at Brockport.

Dr. Thombs has made major research contributions to the study of alcohol and drug use in the adolescent and young adulthood population. Over the last 25 years, his work has examined the role of peer norms in facilitating heavy, episodic drinking and impaired driving; identified specific pharmacologic, genetic, economic and site risk factors that contribute to unsafe patron intoxication levels in the on premise setting; and developed evidence-based, mental health first aid strategies to connect persons in need with professional mental health treatment resources.

Dr. Thombs’ research has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and the U.S. Department of Education. He has authored more than 85 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals, and is the author of one of the leading textbooks on addiction, Introduction to Addictive Behaviors, published by the Guilford Press, and now in its fourth edition.

Dr. Thombs was named as a Fellow in the American Academy of Health Behavior in 2005, and served as president of the Academy from 2009 to 2010.

Posted Date: August 3, 2016


2016 graduation was an “all in the family” celebration for Neda Moayad, DrPH, Adjunct Assistant Behavioral and Community Health Professor in the UNTHSC School of Public Health, when her daughter May received her medical degree from TCOM. Husband and proud dad, DFW-area neurologist Hamid Moayad, is a TCOM class of ’87 graduate, and Neda is a 2004 UNTHSC School of Public Health graduate. May is now pursuing a pediatric residency at Tulane, her dream since she was 14. Sister Mona, pictured at far right, is a CUNY Law School graduate who works with Deutsche Bank’s anti-financial crimes team in New York City.

Posted Date: July 27, 2016

SPH student Dominique Pean (left) with brothers Christian and Alan and their parents.


Dominique Pean remembers the night his older brother Alan was shot in a hospital emergency room.

With a history of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, Alan, a 26-year-old college student, had become increasingly paranoid and delusional leading up to the night he sped to the ER seeking help.

Nearly totaling his car on the hospital parking lot and crashing into other parked vehicles around him, Alan was injured and confused as he screamed out for help from aliens he believed were chasing him.

Sometime between assessment of his injuries and further observation that was expected to lead to a psychiatric evaluation, Alan’s behavior turned even more bizarre and dangerous. Two off-duty police officers moonlighting as hospital security responded, and as they fought to restrain him, he was shocked by a Taser and ultimately, sadly shot in the chest by a bullet.

As Alan’s life hung in the balance, his family struggled to understand the series of events that had led to such trauma, in a place that Alan had run to for safety and help.

Alan is a survivor, having come through the worst and moved his life forward, and today his family is on a mission to help change perceptions of mental illness, especially within health care settings.

Alan’s brother Dominique, a UNTHSC School of Public Health MPH student, recently brought this story to campus as part of an Interprofessional Education (IPE) event, to help students explore misconceptions about mental health and areas where gaps in the health care system may fail patients and their families.

Since the shooting, Dominique and his family (his father is an internal medicine physician, his mother works in health care administration, and his older brother Christian recently completed his medical degree and is pursuing an orthopedic surgery residency at NYU) have been on a mission to share their experience and help champion change, appearing in the New York Times, Huffington Post, This American Life podcasts, and television shows like Dr. Oz (“Why Americans Need to Talk about Mental Health”).

During the campus IPE event, attendees split into groups to play different roles – as hospital CEO, nurse, physician, security, legal counsel and patient advocate staff – to analyze the case and recommend alternate solutions.  During a panel discussion, Pean family members took questions and helped students look at some of the far-reaching issues related to mental health, racial inequity, security and protocol, patient safety, communications and administrative/legal response.

“The system broke down for Alan, and my brother’s case isn’t an isolated one,” Dominique said. “We see situations like this occurring in other cities and communities around the country, and it’s our hope that by sharing this personal story, my family can help champion change around improved care, management and policy for mental health patients.”

“Those in health care and public health professions are in a good place to make change,” Dominique said. “We want to help make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone ever again.”

Posted Date: July 26, 2016


Jennifer Cole, MPH, UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health graduate, has been named by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) as one of 16 new fellows to engage in an intensive one-year assignment at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cole’s fellowship placement will be with the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Prevention, in Atlanta.


Posted Date: July 13, 2016

Sara Ann Aldridge

Growing up in a family where she would become the first to graduate high school, Sara Ann Aldridge says she has always been interested in “finding out how people have come to be where they are in life.”

A UNTHSC School of Public Health MPH student (Behavioral and Community Health and Global Health) graduating this year, she has personally experienced the challenges of growing up with limited health resources and has spent time learning in other countries like Guatemala and Indonesia, to also see the larger global health perspectives across cultures.

This understanding of how daunting and complicated it can be to navigate health systems when seeking preventive and ongoing care has driven her toward an interest in helping to solve global health concerns in the future.

“A big part of my inspiration comes from my mother, who encouraged me and taught me to value determination, compassion and persistence,” Aldridge said.

Now, she’s taking her inspiration to the next level, as part of the inaugural class for the newly developed Siemens Foundation-PATH Ingenuity Fellows program, just announced this summer.
Aldridge is one of six students selected nationally to participate.

With funding through the Siemens Foundation based on a mission of inspiring innovation, research and continuous learning, Aldridge will be working at PATH, a Seattle-based, international nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and improving health, especially among women and children.

The fellowship provides hands-on research experience and instruction on addressing global health issues in settings where barriers to accessible health care exist.

Students will also be mentored by Siemens Healthineers employees, giving them access to market-leading technologies in areas like chemistry, hematology, molecular biology, immunoassay testing and informatics.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with people who are making a difference in global health, to help me gain more in-depth knowledge and research experience that I can apply in the future,” Aldridge said.

With plans to pursue a DrPH degree in Maternal and Child Health Policy next fall, she hopes one day to work on women’s health issues for a global organization like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Water.org or the World Health Organization.

Posted Date: July 8, 2016

Matthew Johnson (SPH MHA ‘16)

Matthew Johnson (SPH MHA ‘16) has been named as a 2016-17 Administrative Fellow at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB).

He previously served as an intern for UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and for JPS Health Network in Tarrant County.

Johnson said he was drawn to the business side of health care, crediting his interest to having grown up in a “family of caregivers,” where his father is a physician, his mother is a nurse, and his brothers are also involved in health professions.


Sarah Jones.MHA

Sarah Jones (MHA ’15)

Last year, SPH student Sarah Jones (MHA ’15) also served as a UTMB Administrative Fellow, where she had opportunity to work with staff on two new hospital openings, as well as several process improvement initiatives, policy and procedures teams, and other special committees.

She has since joined UTMB in a full-time position as Perioperative Services Business Operations Manager.

Her interests include service-line business operations, population health management and quality process improvement.

Posted Date: June 10, 2016

Dr. Liam O’Neill

Health care researchers publishing new studies use methods to remove identifiable patient information when sharing their data, which is often required by grant funding organizations and journals publishing the research.

Yet, even with those precautionary measures, a UNT Health Science Center public health professor has found that online attackers could still identify individual patient health records through cross-referencing against publicly available databases.

Liam O’Neill, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Management and Policy at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, published the report in the June 2016 issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia with colleagues from the University of Iowa and George Washington University.

The article was featured as the June cover story and was also highlighted in a recent podcast. The journal’s editor-in-chief, Dr. Steven L. Shafer of Stanford University, said he believes the article “will have profound implications for digital sharing of patient data” in the future.

“Posting health information that has been properly ‘de-identified’ for public use is assumed to pose no risks to patient privacy, yet computer scientists have demonstrated that this assumption is flawed,” Dr. O’Neill said.

“Knowing a person’s date of birth is insufficient by itself, for example, to identify an individual,” he said, “yet, 87 percent of the specific combinations of date of birth, postal code and gender occur only once among the entire U.S. population.”

“The first step is for an online attacker to link two or more open databases based on overlapping attributes,” he said.

For their study, Dr. O’Neill and colleagues used the State of Texas surgical database – containing public information on more than 2.8 million records – to show that there is a 42.8 percent chance that an online attacker could match an anesthesia record to a de-identified hospital database to uncover sensitive patient information.

The percentage is even greater, they reported, for patients undergoing multiple procedures or from smaller states.

“Few people today would think that the combination of hospital and surgical procedures could be enough to link to a single inpatient record out of a database of millions,” Dr. O’Neill said, “which is why the use or exchange of this type of data is largely unregulated. But methods of online attack are advancing rapidly, faster than methods of defense,” Dr. O’Neill said.

While supporting research transparency, the authors recommended a change in peer-reviewed editorial policy, where study data could be requested from a journal’s editor, rather than being publicly shared in de-identified format.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Science Foundation.

Posted Date: June 9, 2016

From the conference: SPH student Adebola Adeyemi; SPH poster winner Vedant Gohil; UCLA Professor Shane Que Hee, AIHCE Biological Monitoring Committee Chair; Dr. Youcheng Liu, SPH; SPH student Emanehi Iyioriobhe; and SPH poster winner Caleb Okafor.

Two UNTHSC public health students won Best Student Poster awards at the 2016 American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition, recently held in Baltimore.

The international conference is held annually for professionals in industrial hygiene and other occupational and environmental health and safety professions.

The organization’s Biological Monitoring Committee recognized Vedant Gohil for his presentation on “Tobacco Harvesting Work, Exposure to Nicotine, Vital Signs and Nicotine Poisoning,” and the Protective Clothing and Equipment Committee honored Caleb Okafor for his poster, “Determinants of Nicotine Exposure in Tobacco Harvesting Workers: A Pilot Study.”

Both are Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences MPH students.