Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration and Public Health Sciences at the University of Chicago and a nonresident Fellow of the Century Foundation.

Recent Articles

Neglecting the Swine Flu Frontlines

Stimulus spending couldn't have hit the ground fast enough to avert the current swine flu crisis. But moderate senators -- including new Democrat Arlen Specter -- still have a lot to answer for in terms of their lack of support for local public-health funding.

Tuesday morning, I walked into our university hospital for a meeting. I was stopped at the door by a police officer. He didn't check my ID, he pointed to a bottle of hand sanitizer. As I scrubbed, he gave me a card telling me what to do if I had a fever or other symptoms. That's good. Chicago has had some likely cases of H1N1 flu. We aren't panicking, but we are paying attention. Such experiences remind us that local institutions are at the real front lines in addressing public-health emergencies. The capacity of state and local governments to coordinate and mobilize these efforts is a crucial, and readily overlooked, variable in the current flu challenge. Unfortunately, these components of our nation's public-health infrastructure are less prepared and less capable than they would otherwise be, thanks to that small but critical group of Senate moderates who controlled Senate votes on this year's stimulus bill. Perhaps these votes would have gone differently had H1N1 arrived three...


By Harold Pollack Thanks for the hospitality, Ezra. Thanks, especially, to the commenters for great observations and corrections. The combination of anonymity, spontaneity, and immaturity render many comment threads a depressing and toxic brew. Not here. I’m grateful that readers here care about public health, not merely healthcare delivery. One final Polonius-like note: For the past eight years, our presidential administration ignored or rejected scientific consensus in critical matters: climate change, syringe exchange, condoms, abstinence-only education, the health impact of environmental pollutants, and much more. Many people in the reality-based scientific, medical, environmental, and public health communities are breathing a sigh of relief that the Obama administration appears committed to evidence-informed policy. By all means, let’s collectively exhale. Then let's be sure to hold progressives to the same high scientific standards many of us wanted to apply to President Bush....


Richard Besser has the conventional good looks of a TV anchorman. That’s a useful qualification for public office. Fortunately, that is not what got him appointed Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’m pretty happy about this pick, which hasn’t gotten the attention or visibility it deserves. As I have written before , our nation’s flagship public health agency is troubled. Besser takes the reins of an agency that has endured severe administrative and morale difficulties. CDC was traumatized by the ideological battles of the Bush years, by management reorganizations and budget difficulties, and by new challenges posed by 9/11, anthrax, and (later) Katrina….


By Harold Pollack What a different elections make. Less than two weeks into things, the Obama administration and congressional Democrats can just about chalk another victory on the board. In case you aren’t up on current events, the Senate passed SCHIP yesterday. The bill would cover an additional four million children. Since the House passed a nearly identical bill, this one seems bankable. The bill is quite close to those vetoed by President Bush, with one key difference: States would now be able to use federal money to cover legal immigrants without the five-year waiting period that now applies to most immigrant children and pregnant women. During the campaign, I remember debates among health reform advocates about what the fallback position should be if one could not achieve a larger victory. “Cover the kids,” was the most common suggestion. They will need to move these goalposts.


By Harold Pollack Tuesday's New York Times includes a nice story “The epidemic that wasn’t” recounting the crack baby scare of two decades ago. Quoting distinguished experts such as Brown University’s Barry Lester and Boston University’s Deborah Frank, Times reporter Susan Okie recounts that sorry history, in which real medical uncertainty, media sensationalism, and the race-culture politics of the drug war combined to produce a harmful panic. If you want to get this story, Laura Gomez’s Misconceiving Mothers remains an essential source. There are some interesting byways, such as the pervasive reluctance of juries to convict women prosecuted for their prenatal drug use.