Our Legacy

We got our start as the Department of Public Health Practice, one of the original four departments that made up the Graduate School of Public Health when it was established in 1948. Renamed the Department of Health Services Administration in 1967, it split in half in 2002, becoming the Departments of {Health Policy and Management} and {Behavioral and Community Health Sciences}.

In the early days, our focus as a department was on the aged, mental health, public health administration, and environmental sanitation. Walter J. McNerney, who at the time was assistant to the coordinator of hospitals and clinics at the University, started our program in hospital administration. McNerney would later become one of the nation’s leaders in the field as advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson, helping to create the Medicare and Medicaid programs during the 1960s and overseeing the merger of Blue Cross and Blue Shield in the late 1970s.

The development of our Master of Hospital Administration program in the 1960s launched the careers of some of the most outstanding health organization administrators in the country. Between 1952 and 1972, 56 percent of alumni who were employed by hospitals were either chief administrative officers or associate directors. Our program was also led by some of the most outstanding health administrators and researchers in the country. We brought on board Hilda Kroeger in 1962 as associate research professor, who later directed our Medical and Hospital Administration Program. Kroeger trained as a pediatrician and held an MPH from Yale University. Before coming to Pitt, she was director of maternal and child health in the Arizona Department of Health, and then was the administrator of Magee Hospital in Pittsburgh for a decade. While at Pitt, Kroeger’s research was published multiple times in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Her articles were among the first to be published on systematic evaluations of health practices.

During the subsequent decades, we would establish programs in health law and policy that would form the basis of our department today. Two of the most influential faculty members in these areas were Nathan Hershey and Judith Lave, respectively.

Through a National Institutes of Health grant, Hershey (now an emeritus professor) and two others published the Hospital Law Manual, which, 40 years later, is still the definitive guide to the legal responsibilities and liabilities of health care providers. It was the first codification of health policy law, and it ultimately would form a critical part of what is today the LexisNexis database, the world’s largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information.

Lave’s appointment in 1982 strengthened the department’s health policy focus. An expert in the design of prospective payment systems that were implemented by the Medicare program, Lave was lead investigator of a study that compared children newly enrolled in a health insurance program with those who were continuously enrolled. It would eventually sway Congress and lead to the expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) from three states to all 50.

Other research-related accomplishments of note include the founding of the Health Policy Institute in 1980 under the direction of Beaufort Longest; the finding by Drs. Judith Lave, Yuting Zhang, and Julie Marie Donohue that the Medicare Part D drug plan’s gap in coverage is linked to seniors’ cutbacks in the use of antidepressants, heart failure drugs, and diabetes medicine; and the research of Nicholas G. Castle related to the development of quality-of-care measures for long-term care institutions and nursing homes.

With the creation of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory in 2010, we also began to strengthen our research in modeling, simulation, and quantitative policy analysis. Under the direction of current chair Mark S. Roberts, the department has expanded its policy research portfolio and faculty recruitment in these quantitative areas.

Current Research

Learn about what research we're doing now.