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 An Interview with Donna Shalala

An Interview with Donna Shalala

Donna Shalala
Donna Edna Shalala has served as president of the University of Miami since 2001. Prior to her appointment as University of Miami President, she served for eight years as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush in June 2008.


Gary Barg: You helped create the Family Caregiving Initiative and the National Family Caregiver Support Program.  These two major programs have been of great importance to family caregivers since they were initiated. Are they living up to your expectations?
 
Donna Shalala: I think there are lots of things going on that are consistent with what the caregiver programs expected. So far, the reports I have gotten back from families are that where they have a recovery coordinator, the programs have been tremendous and have really relieved the families.  But I think it is too soon to tell because the coordinators are still being trained.
 
Gary Barg:  Another issue of importance to caregivers, of course, is what happens to our wounded veterans and their family members. Can you talk a little about the outcome of the commission?
 
Donna Shalala:  A number of recommendations were related to families and support systems for families.  It is quite clear that an individualís injury during the war is devastating to the families, and families have changed. Women are working.  Mothers are working.  Everybody is trying to pay the mortgage. Picking up and leaving and going to a hospital, particularly for those with the most complex illnesses, is changing family arrangements.  I think what was important for us was to make sure that the government provided the resources, the training and the support systems that were needed to make sure that the family could maintain their quality of life, and that there were people doing professional things that families should not be doing.
 
Gary Barg: How is that being accomplished?
 
Donna Shalala:  The recovery coordinators are an example of that.  They really reflect our understanding of how to address the complexity of some of the injuries involving multiple specialists plus multiple therapists; and of the necessity for one person to understand both the science, as well as being able to coordinate it, and having the authority to override some of the bureaucracy to get things done.  They make sure people get everything that is eligible to them; but not just the individual that was injured, but their family as well.
   
Gary Barg:  What would you consider the most important piece of advice that you have for family caregivers?
 
Donna Shalala:  I think that there is help for them.  Keeping themselves healthy is as important as what they are doing for their loved ones.  It is important that they find some balance.