John W. Seavey
Distinguished Professor Award
Professor of Health Management and Policy
School of Health and Human Services
Visionary, educator, pragmatist
John Seavey is a “go-to person,” someone who is asked, again and again, to serve in many ways for a variety of organizations.
An expert on rural health care, Seavey writes about the strategic options for rural health care organizations in the United States. He has worked on public health issues in the state such as long-term care, end-of-life care, AIDS, and Medicaid reimbursements. His expertise in curriculum design has been transformative both for his discipline and for undergraduate education at the University.
From Hampton, N.H., Seavey grew up in a family with long generational ties to the state. His father, a newspaper publisher, was active in town affairs and served on the board of the local hospital. In turn, Seavey has carried on that family tradition. Seavey became interested in health care policy as a doctoral student in political science/public policy at the University of Arizona. “This was in the 60s and 70s,” he recalls, “when the role of federal and state governments dramatically expanded to develop new systems and programs to meet the health care needs of the population.”
This interest led him to earn an M.P.H. degree from Harvard in 1979. He was in the first cohort of students when that program was opened to nonmedical professionals because of the growing importance of policy for health care.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, many rural hospitals were closing and people were worried about the quality of care in rural areas,” says Seavey. “So I teamed up with people and started focusing on that.”
Eventually, he and colleagues wrote The Strategies and Environments of America’s Small, Rural Hospitals, a readable, informative book. And, as is Seavey’s inclination, it focuses on the successes.
In 1980, Seavey joined what was then known as the Department of Health Administration and Planning at UNH. As the health care sector changed, he worked with colleagues on revamping the undergraduate curriculum in order to educate top-notch health care professionals who could serve this region. Not surprisingly, a departmental name change soon followed with a proactive emphasis on management and policy.
“In the undergraduate program, we create a tension between micro and macro perspectives,” says Seavey. “Students need both. For example, every health care organization is affected by the 44 million people who are uninsured and is further affected by the 60 million who are underinsured. We have an ethical responsibility to make care available to people. How can we do it?”
The undergraduate curriculum has been successful in meeting the needs of the regional area. This is evidenced by student successes in the field. Seavey was also instrumental in establishing the existing national peer review program for undergraduate programs in health management and continues to review programs nationally.
After preliminary studies showed the need for increased professional development for public health in the state, Seavey, then chair, and colleagues began to develop the Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) program. Launched in 2002, it is the only M.P.H. public university program in Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont that makes the program accessible to health professionals in the area.
A recent M.P.H. graduate, registered nurse Maureen Farley ’G05, continues to work as a captain in the Public Health Service. “The UNH program is great, because it is grounded in understanding and achieving public health goals at the community level,” says Farley.
Patrick Miller ’91, ’G05 was the first M.P.H. student to graduate in the new ecology track. Recently Miller founded the Jordon Institute, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit focused on public health and environmental issues. “John is like an ambassador. We sit on the Public Health Association Board together,” says Miller. “He’s a strategic, inclusive thinker. He figures out how we can all work together.”
As chair of the General Education Study Committee from 1999 to 2002, Seavey guided the development of the Discovery Program, the new blueprint for undergraduate education at the University. It emphasizes interdisciplinary study, analysis, and discussion.
“In order to solve complex problems, students need to appreciate that one way of looking at a problem is merely that, one way,” says Seavey. “It doesn’t provide an integrated answer to complicated questions.”
Those skills, as Seavey well knows, are ones that will prove vital for future generations.