UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Pamela Farley Short, professor of health policy and administration (HPA) in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) has retired after more than 18 years at Penn State. She now joins the HPA faculty as a professor emeritus of health policy and administration.
Her Penn State career includes serving as director of the Center for Health Care Policy and Research (CHCPR) from 1997 to 2014. CHCPR’s mission is to create and disseminate new scientific knowledge that will help private and public decision-makers to develop cost-effective services and programs that improve people's health.
While Short served as director of CHCPR, the center grew from a staff of three to 14 regular employees, as well as multiple student research assistants. Today, CHCPR collaborates with researchers interested in all aspects of health services and health care improvement to find funding, develop quality research designs, collect and analyze data, and disseminate findings to the right audiences.
“Beyond the growth of CHCPR, I think we were able to create one of the best places to work at Penn State,” Short said. “Many employees have stayed with the center for a long time, which has allowed them to learn new skills and contribute in new ways. That has been good for employees and for faculty, who have been able to rely on excellent assistance with projects and proposals from the center.”
During her service, Short also taught health policy and administration courses for undergraduates, master’s students preparing for management positions in health care, and doctoral students. She found teaching and mentoring doctoral students particularly rewarding.
“I’ve felt like I had a lot to offer them, not only about the science of research, but also about research as a business – with a product to design and market, financial considerations, and its own culture and traditions,” Short said. “Along the same lines, chairing and serving on doctoral dissertation committees has been a special pleasure.”
Having worked as a full-time researcher in Washington, D.C. before coming to Penn State, Short continued her work related to health insurance here. Her insurance studies particularly “emphasized the turnover in Medicaid, private insurance, and the uninsured when incomes, employment, and other aspects of people’s lives change.” Her affiliation with Penn State’s Population Research Institute and demography program connected Short with many other researchers who also study changes in the lives of individuals over time.
About 15 years ago, Short began another line of research that has helped cancer survivors and oncology professionals better understand the economic consequences of being diagnosed and treated for cancer, particularly the long-term effects on employment.
An early study examined employment patterns for older survivors who were working when diagnosed with cancer, compared to other workers ages 55-65. It showed that significant reductions in long-term employment were confined to survivors with recurrences, as distinguished from survivors who remained cancer-free.
Another study showed that significant reductions in employment for older cancer survivors who were working at diagnosis were only evident for survivors who lacked their own job-related health insurance, suggesting that insured survivors (before passage of the Affordable Care Act) were “locked” into jobs for the sake of health insurance.
Among younger workers of prime working age who survived cancer, significant reductions in the rate of employment and hours of work were evident for cancer-free-survivors—as well as those with recurrences. However, the average magnitudes of cancer’s effects on prime-age workers were similar to those observed for older workers.
Among prime-age workers, there were indications that the employment of men was particularly hard-hit by cancer recurrences compared to the employment of women. On the other hand, female survivors were more likely than male survivors to have been out of the labor market when diagnosed with cancer, and female survivors were significantly more likely to stay out of the labor market than other non-working women.
Over her career, Short has seen some areas of health care noticeably improve, thanks in part to data and insights produced by researchers in her field.
“Quality is one aspect of health care that has changed a lot,” she said. “In the early 2000s, the Institute of Medicine produced two hugely influential reports, To Err is Human and Crossing the Quality Chasm. Those reports shone a spotlight on the deaths caused by medical errors and the low quality of U.S. health care. They also offered many concrete suggestions for improving quality. After the reports came out, both researchers and practitioners started giving a lot more attention to quality—and that’s paid off for patients.”
Moving forward, Short believes researchers and policymakers should work on shrinking disparities and reining in costs.
“As I frequently told my students, the fact that the U.S. spends so much of its gross domestic product on health care not only says something about our spending priorities, it also says that there are many powerful economic interests with a big stake in our continuing to spend a lot on health care,” Short said.
Short received her Ph.D. in economics from Yale University and her bachelor’s degree in economics from Wellesley College.
In retirement, Short and her husband plan to continue living in State College, where they will ride their tandem bicycle, root for their favorite Penn State teams, go to lots of concerts and plays, and otherwise enjoy life in a small town with a big university.
“As I start my time as a retired faculty member, I just hope that I can remain as involved and supportive of HPA during my retirement as our two long-time Professors Emeritus, Stan Mayers and Marshal Raffel,” Short said. “I believe that Stan and Marshal had both retired before I even started at Penn State, but I feel like I know them well. That is quite a testimonial to their continuing involvement in the department.”
Short’s honors and achievements include: Evan G. and Helen G. Pattishall Outstanding Faculty Research Achievement Award from the College of Health and Human Development; Article of the Year Award for “Single Women and the Dynamics of Medicaid” from the Association for Health Services Research; selection to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Cancer Survivorship; and service in the White House as a staff expert on health care economics.
For more information about Health Policy and Administration at Penn State, visit hhd.psu.edu/hpa.