Nizar K. Wehbi, MD, MPH, MBA

Nizar K. Wehbi, MD, MPH, MBA

Faculty Highlight – Dr. Nizar Wehbi joined the faculty of the College of Public Health in January 2011. He began his career in clinical medicine, taking care of patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings. His love for research took him to cancer research where, with other researchers, he sought to identify biomarkers (proteins) that would predict prostate and bladder cancer at very early stages of disease. He then moved to hospital administration and worked for The Nebraska Medical Center in strategic planning and business development, providing support to hospital leadership in developing, implementing, and monitoring the organizational strategic planning process.

Dr. Wehbi teaches graduate courses in Health Services Administration, Human Resources Management, US Health Care System, and Health Policy. After completing a Certificate in Online Instruction, Dr. Wehbi will be offering Health Services Administration as an online course in spring 2013. Moreover, Dr. Wehbi serves on the Faculty and Planning Committee of the Interprofessional Leadership for Excellence and Academic Development, known as iLEAD, a UNMC-wide faculty development program.

Dr. Wehbi’s research interests focus on health care quality, outcomes measures, efficiency of health care services, the use of Six Sigma and LEAN principles for process improvement, health and wellness programs, and strategic planning and governance in health care organizations. He will present his research findings in assessment of the wellness program administered by SimplyWell® at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco this October.

Dr. Wehbi is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and is board certified in health care management. He is Certified in Public Health (CPH) and serves as an item writer for the National Board of Public Health Examiners CPH exam. In May, Dr. Wehbi was appointed to the 2012 Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The award program is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and is the highest level of national recognition for performance excellence that a US organization can receive. Dr. Wehbi serves as a trustee and is on the Board of Directors of the Omaha Home for Boys, and is a director of the Heartland Healthcare Executives Group, which is the Nebraska chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Nizar Wehbi, MD, MPH, MBA, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Research and Administration at the UNMC College of Public Health.

Michele Kassmeier

Michele Kassmeier

Student Highlight – Michele Kassmeier grew up in the #5-ranked place on Money magazine’s 2011 list of America’s best small towns—Papillion, Nebraska. She is currently a student in the UNMC College of Public Health (COPH) Master of Public Health (MPH) Program, with a concentration in epidemiology. As treasurer of the COPH Student Association and MPH student representative on the Research and Development Committee, she is actively involved with several events in the COPH. She also serves as a graduate assistant for the Center for Preparedness Education, where she has done research in the area of home health and disaster preparedness planning, assists with administrative tasks for emergency preparedness classes, and has helped with the planning process for the center’s summer symposia series throughout Nebraska.

Michele received her BS in biochemistry, with minors in Spanish, math, and chemistry, from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, while also working as a nursing assistant at The Nebraska Medical Center. Post-graduation, she worked for almost three years in a medical microbiology and immunology lab, doing research. Through her experiences, she knew she wanted to pursue a career related to health. Her passion for helping people became the driving force that eventually led her to discover the field of public health. What better way to influence health than to learn about barriers, risk factors, and adverse outcomes associated with different diseases affecting people? Throughout her coursework, she feels she is learning valuable skills, which will be essential in the future. She is beginning her service-learning/capstone project with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services division of Lifespan Health Services, and she will be looking at possible relationships between family planning and unintended pregnancy within Nebraska.

Michele is inspired by the unique student community within the COPH and appreciates the opportunities for educational growth. After completing her MPH program, Michele is not quite sure what she wants to do, but she is hopeful that whatever path she takes will allow her to have an impact on health. Her goal is to be able to work in a field related to maternal and child health.

Jiangtao Luo, PhD, Research on Statistical Methodology and Applications

Jiangtao Luo, PhD

Spotlight on Research at COPH – Dr. Jiangtao Luo’s research interests are in both statistical methodology and applications. His research areas include statistical methods in genetics and genomics, clinical genetics, genetic epidemiology, modeling, optimal design in clinical trials, public health, longitudinal data analysis, and Bayesian analysis. Dr. Luo’s work with Dr. William Hager has an important application in optimal design, which can result in a more efficient use of resources. Dr. Luo and his collaborators Dr. Hager and Dr. Rongling Wu have developed a model for functional mapping of a virus-cell dynamic system that they believe will be a practical and effective method for gene discovery in clinical settings. Dr. Luo is currently working with Dr. Jane Meza and Dr. Jim Anderson on optimal design in clinical trials with financial constraints. This research will provide cost effective designs in clinical trials. Dr. Luo is also working with Dr. Ge Lin, Dr. Baojiang Chen, and Dr. Fang Yu on problems related to low birth weight and cancer.

Dr. Luo is an active collaborator in research. He is a Children’s Oncology Group statistician. He also serves as a consultant for statistical design and analysis of clinical trials. Dr. Luo enjoys mentoring students and teaching biostatistics, design of medical studies, and biostatistical linear models.

Jiangtao Luo, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Biostatistics.

The Positive Effects of Gardening (Part 1 of 2)


Public Health Community Advisory –
Gardening for health is an old idea that is rapidly gaining wide recognition. The ramifications of gardening for health are widespread.

The main purpose of local gardening is to improve diet, especially in areas where fresh vegetables are expensive and hard to find. In even a small back yard, a family can grow enough food to make a significant nutritional contribution. Fresh vegetables can be frozen and stored for later use. And gardening can help the family to reduce its food budget.

The exercise involved in light gardening is helpful, appropriate, and motivating, and salutary for elders and others of limited physical ability or in sedentary occupations. Working in a garden’s pleasant surroundings uplifts the spirit and makes exercise more congenial.

Backyard gardens supply a single family’s food, but community gardens also make additional contributions. Community gardens provide growing space for those who lack space at home. They educate and motivate beginning gardeners, and they support backyard gardeners with loans of tools and occasional volunteer help. They provide gardening, cooking, nutrition, and food storage classes and resources. They provide the social support of company and conversation, which additionally rewards healthy exercise and eating. A weekly potluck for gardeners at the community garden provides a healthy neighborhood organizing event. Meanwhile, community gardens provide opportunities for youth to work with elders in learning new skills. Grade and high school classes can meet in gardens, or even grow their own gardens, to learn botany, genetics, nutrition, and similar scientific subjects. The practicality of gardening helps to motivate students who experience the sciences as irrelevant or abstract. And, selling vegetables at the local farmers’ market teaches youth small business skills and directs them to possible careers, including food processing, seed saving, composting, agronomy, and horticulture.

The UNMC College of Public Health supports the community gardening movement in a variety of ways. Through faculty members Rebecca Anderson, Ruti Margalit, Maurice Godfrey, Liliana Bronner, Andrew Jameton, and others, we are providing UNMC students with service-learning and research opportunities. Our VISTA / AmeriCorps program with Metropolitan Community College is helping to build community gardening education programs for children, families, and especially, at-risk youth. Through the NIH sponsored Science Education Partnership Award program, City Sprouts is partnering with UNMC and regional Native American communities to promote community gardens on Central High Plains reservations as well.

Major US cities now host thousands of community gardens, and the numbers are increasing. Gardening is a quiet public health movement helping the nation address its health-related obesity epidemic.

This article was written by Andrew Jameton, PhD, a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. Part 2, “Mitigating the Negative Effects of Gardening,” will be published next month.

Part 2- The Health Challenges of Community Gardening

Impact in Nebraska of the Supreme Court Decision on Health Law

Public Health in the National News – On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, with the majority opinion that Congress has the authority to use the taxing power endowed by the Constitution to impose the individual mandate. Another key ruling from the Court was that a provision of the ACA to expand the Medicaid program for individuals from 100% of the federal poverty level to 133% of the federal poverty level is optional, rather than required of state governments. You can read the Supreme Court’s decision here.

The Supreme Court’s ruling clears the way for the law’s implementation (Timeline of the ACA implementation). States, like Nebraska, that have been waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court before acting on implementation of key pieces of the legislation will now need to hurry to meet federal deadlines. For example, states need to submit a “readiness review” for a state-run health insurance exchange by January 2013. States that fail to submit a readiness plan will either have a health insurance exchange run entirely by the federal government or in partnership with the state government. Governor Heineman recently stated that Nebraska should wait on further planning efforts on implementing health insurance exchanges.

A recent report profiling health insurance in Nebraska by the UNMC Center for Health Policy (Health Insurance Coverage in Nebraska) found that there are more than 217,000 uninsured Nebraskans. Several key provisions in the Affordable Care Act will help many uninsured Nebraskans find and be able to afford health insurance coverage, including establishment of health insurance exchanges, guaranteed issue of insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to stay on their parent’s health insurance up to age 26, and expansion of Medicaid coverage.

Even though the law has been upheld, the outcome of the November elections could impact the implementation of the law. For example, Congress could pass legislation to repeal the law or attempt to defund it through the budget reconciliation process before major provisions take effect in 2014. The following are some selected benefits of the Affordable Care Act for Nebraska after two years of implementation. More details are available at

  • 18,000 young adults in Nebraska gained insurance coverage.
  • 359,000 Nebraskans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing.
  • Nebraska has received $7.3 million in grants from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act.
  • Health centers in Nebraska have received $19.4 million to create new health center sites in medically underserved areas and expand preventive and primary health care services.

This article was written by Jim Stimpson, PhD, associate professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration.