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Ruffin Formally Sworn In as New Center Director

By Carla Garnett

Photos by Bill Branson

On the Front Page...

Dr. John Ruffin was formally sworn in as director of NIH's new National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities by then-DHHS Deputy Secretary Kevin Thurm on Jan. 9. The ceremony was held in NIH acting director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein's office and was attended by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), former Congressman Louis Stokes, several top NIH staff as well as Ruffin's wife and two daughters.

Continued...

"I congratulate you, Dr. Ruffin, on behalf of all Americans but particularly on behalf of victims of these health disparities," Jackson said. "The charge before you is enormous. I have no doubt that your outstanding efforts and the good science that will come out of this new center will help close these gaps in health."

The new center was signed into law on Nov. 22, 2000. According to S. 1880, an amendment to the Public Health Service Act and the official document that created the center, NCMHD's mission is to "conduct and support research, training, dissemination of information, and other programs with respect to minority health conditions and other populations with health disparities." In its summary findings, the document noted: Congress found that "despite notable progress in the overall health of the Nation, there are continuing disparities in the burden of illness and death experienced by African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Asian Pacific Islanders, compared to the United States population as a whole."

Dr. John Ruffin, director of NIH's newest center, takes the oath of office as his wife, Dr. Angela Ruffin of NLM, holds the Bible.

With its new status as a center, the former Office of Research on Minority Health will now be able to award research grants independently, an administrative authority reserved solely for institutes and centers. Before now, ORMH could partner with other ICs to fund grants, but could not alone award research project funding.

Specific priorities for the center include helping to develop an integrated, cross-disciplinary national health research agenda on closing the health gaps and promoting and supporting research capacity-building activities in the minority and medically underserved communities. The center is a result of years of grass-roots efforts and prompting by Jackson, Congressmen John Lewis and William Frist, and Sen. Ted Kennedy — and several others in the House and Senate — and is a personal triumph for Stokes, a Democrat from Ohio and longtime supporter in Congress of health issues, especially those involving minorities.

Former Congressman Louis Stokes, a longtime supporter of minority health research, was also on hand for the ceremony.

"If anyone has deserved this appointment, it is John Ruffin," Stokes said at the ceremony. "He has earned his stripes. I took great pride in working with him from the moment Dr. Kirschstein brought him on at NIH. I also take great pride when I look back over my 30 years in Congress to now see those like Rep. Jackson, who followed in our footsteps. He is carrying on brilliantly on the appropriations committee and is taking the work to the next and higher levels." Stokes was recently appointed to chair the DHHS secretary's new advisory committee on minority health.

Then-Deputy HHS Secretary Kevin Thurm listens to remarks by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who was instrumental in ushering through Congress the legislation creating the new center.

For Ruffin, the appointment to center director caps more than a decade at NIH on the front lines of medical research involving minorities. He came to NIH in 1990 as the first associate director for research on minority health, who was to lead the then newly established ORMH. He has more than 25 years of experience in developing and administering programs to enhance minority health.

"I have always viewed myself as the drum major for one hell of a band," Ruffin said, following the oath of office administered by Thurm. "You all are the players and my responsibility is to keep everybody fine-tuned. I'm deeply honored to accept the confidence you have bestowed on me."

Presenting the certificate to Ruffin are (from l) Thurm and NIH acting director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein. Ruffin's wife and daughters, Meeka and Beverly, joined him for the swearing-in.

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