State maternal-child health epidemiologist to lead Community & Family Health, Chiles Center

Tampa, FL (Dec. 27, 2011) — A nationally recognized maternal and child health epidemiologist has joined USF Health as chair of the College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Family Health and director of the Lawton & Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies.

William Sappenfield, MD, MPH, brings nearly 27 years experience in maternal and child health (MCH) epidemiological research and practice at the national, state and local levels.

Dr. Sappenfield joins the University of South Florida from the Florida Department of Health, where for six years he was state MCH epidemiologist and directed the MCH Practice and Analysis Unit. He came to Florida in 2005 after retiring as a commissioned public health officer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he served for 21 years — most recently as team leader of the CDC’s MCH Epidemiology Program.

William Sappenfield, MD, PhD

Using statistics and other data, epidemiologists measure the health of specified populations and then apply this information to help evaluate whether programs or policies work to improve health or prevent illness.

“We welcome Dr. Sappenfield to the College of Public Health with great enthusiasm. He is well-regarded as a consummate professional, an outstanding scholar and a true leader,” said Donna Petersen, ScD, dean of the USF College of Public Health. “He has a deep passion for excellence, a high regard for our students and a commitment to building a world-class enterprise at USF Health using the best tools of public health — social epidemiology, community engagement, social marketing and prevention efforts — to improve the health of families.”

As an MCH epidemiologist leader at the state and the CDC, Dr. Sappenfield has directed teams of epidemiologists, worked with programs across departments, and collaborated with state and local public health agencies, organizations and universities. When he decided to seek a full-time academic position, Dr. Sappenfield, a board-certified pediatrician with an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health, could have chosen from among many prestigious institutions.

“I’m excited to be here,” Dr. Sappenfield said. “USF has an outstanding college of public health, has a successful track record and is really poised with the right faculty to make a difference in shaping health for the future… The key will be putting together the right partners and finding the right funding sources so we can do what needs to be done to improve the health of mothers and children in Florida.”

At the Florida Department of Health, Dr. Sappenfield directed a variety of MCH epidemiological studies, including assessing the causes of infant mortality in Florida, investigating factors associated with the state’s increase in ectopic pregnancy deaths, examining at ways to improve effective use of contraceptives, and studying in a multistate analysis the reasons for children’s poor access to preventive dental care (Florida ranks last nationwide).

He also worked with public and private partners across the state to help launch the new Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative. USF’s College of Public Health and the Chiles Center, supported by a March of Dimes grant, provide leadership and technical assistance for the initiative. The first project, underway in six hospitals, aims to reverse the rise in cesarean sections and inductions for non-medical reasons before 39 weeks of pregnancy.

Research by Dr. Sappenfield and others has shown that infants born even a week or two early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants; evidence suggests they may even be more prone to learning disabilities. “Sometimes aggressively intervening in a pregnancy is not necessarily better,” Dr. Sappenfield said. “This collaborative has the potential to reduce complications that lead to greater health care costs.”

In addition to overseeing the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative, the Chiles Center was recently selected to evaluate the effectiveness of federally-funded home visiting program models that serve pregnant women and children from birth to age 5. In Florida, the new program will focus on providing integrated health services to families in five high-risk communities, including Pinellas County.

Dr. Sappenfield envisions strengthening the outreach of the Chiles Center to improve perinatal outcomes and children’s health in Florida – a state just starting to show a decline in infant mortality but still reporting disparities, especially for black infants. He will start by forging research collaborations across the university and the state

“I want to help build a place where we can make difference in shaping the future of health in all its dimensions,” he said. “Not only through research and the promotion of prevention and public policy, but also by training and mentoring the professionals who will pick up where we leave off – and hopefully do better.”

Dr. Sappenfield received a MD degree from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and a MPH degree concentrated in epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health. He completed a pediatric residency at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and a preventive medicine residency at the CDC in Atlanta. He also received applied epidemiology training through the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service program.

Throughout his career, Dr. Sappenfield has held faculty appointments in several schools of public health and at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He serves on several national committees and on the editorial board of the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Julie Baldwin, PhD, who served as chair of Community and Family Health since 2008, will continue to pursue her research, teaching and community engagement activities as a professor in the department.

– USF Health –

USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a global research university ranked 34th in federal research expenditures for public universities.

Media contact:
Anne DeLotto Baier, (813) 974-3303 or abaier@health.usf.edu