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Former USF assistant professor heads up public health efforts in Louisiana

An assistant professor at USF is using his leadership experience and knowledge of public health in a newly appointed position in Louisiana.

At the end of February, Dr. Rony Francois was named the assistant secretary for public health of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) by secretary Alan Levine.

“I think he was picked in recognition of his leadership skills demonstrated in Florida,” said Donna Peterson, dean of the College of Public Health. “He is a wonderful example of someone educated in public health.”

Francois said he was essentially Florida’s secretary of health from 2005-2007, and oversaw an agency of 16,000 employees and a budget of $2.5 billion dollars. Now he said he is dealing with a budget of $330 million and a new opportunity to make a difference.

“It is a wonderful opportunity, because Louisiana has challenges in respect to infant mortality, childhood obesity, cancer, and injuries,” he said. “There are opportunities to make a difference, and that’s why I’m here.”

He believes infant mortality is the biggest issue Louisiana faces with 10.4 deaths per 1,000 births in 2005, according to the National Center of Health Statistics. Francois said pre-natal care is essential and is the principle way of impacting infant mortality.

“I hope to elevate and move the health indicators to the next level in terms of improvement. That’s a daunting challenge,” Francois said. The major challenge is infant mortality. So many factors go into that one indicator.”

In terms of Hurricane Katrina, he said all the direct health problems have been solved, but the problems rest in the rebuilding process and physical injuries that could occur from the debris lying in the streets.

“From a public health prospective, you don’t have any outbreak from Katrina. What hasn’t recovered is the infrastructure,” Francois said.

Peterson believes this is a critical time for Louisiana in terms of the health of its inhabitants.

“I think this is a very important time for Louisiana to tackle the leftover problems from Katrina,” she said.

Peterson said Francois’ new role in aiding the ongoing repair of Louisiana would improve the lives of citizens through his administrative, financial, and leadership roles.

“Louisiana is really lucky to have him,” Peterson said.

Francois attributes his success to connections with people, not to what he learned in the classroom.

“It’s not the stuff I learned in a textbook that helps me. It’s my ability to connect with people on an emotional level,” he said.

This is one of the characteristics Peterson said makes him a good leader.

“He’s a true leader and I really think he enjoys that role,” she said.