Dr. Ninez Ponce, a UCLA professor and passionate advocate on behalf of evidence-based health policies that represent and serve the nation’s increasingly diverse population, has been appointed the new director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research at the Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health, starting July 1.
She will succeed Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Kominski, a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and a distinguished health policy analyst and health economist who has advocated on behalf of coverage for the underserved throughout his 30-year career at UCLA.
Ponce, also a professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health's Department of Health Policy and Management, is internationally recognized as a disparities researcher. She is also a noted expert in survey-based research and helped develop the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), the nation’s largest state health survey.
“The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research is a cornerstone of policy in California and our data collection methods are a model for how to understand a rapidly changing nation,” said Ponce. “It will be an honor to lead this renowned research center at a crucial time in our country’s ongoing conversation about race, equity, and access to health care.”
Kominski was appointed director in January 2012 and served as an associate director for 18 years prior to that. He will continue to research critical issues in health policy as a senior fellow at the Center and in his continuing role as a professor in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“My commitment to social justice began in the 1960s, when I was inspired by the civil rights movement and Dr. King to fight for a more equal and just society,” Kominski said. “The Center embodies those ideals that inspired me so early in my life. But now it’s time to ‘pass the torch‘ to a new generation of leaders in the fight for social equality.”
Measuring the nation’s diversity
Ponce led pioneering efforts in multicultural survey research, including some of the first scientific techniques to accurately measure race and ethnicity, cultural assimilation, generational status, and discrimination. As the Principal Investigator for the Center’s California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), she led efforts to expand the survey’s already-comprehensive understanding of race and ethnicity, including adapting the survey into Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog (along with Spanish and English), and implementing Asian ethnic oversamples. Under her leadership, CHIS became a national and increasingly global model of how to collect health information about many little-studied racial, ethnic, indigenous, and sexual minority groups. That data has made the Center’s research pivotal on many national issues, from single-payer health care, to the health of the undocumented, to gay marriage.
“Ninez Ponce is uniquely qualified to serve as the next director of the Center,” said Kominski. “She is a committed advocate for the underserved, and her leadership of CHIS makes her the perfect person to continue the Center’s core mission, begun by Rick Brown, of fighting for universal access to health care in California, the nation, and the world.”
Since joining the Center at its founding in 1994, Kominski helped build the Center into one of the nation’s leading think tanks, known in particular for its evidence-based research on the uninsured before and after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, as well as for its large-scale evaluations of state and federal health programs. During the past 8 years, he has led the Center’s efforts, in collaboration with UC Berkeley, to develop complex predictive modeling of enrollment and other factors affecting implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He is widely recognized as a strong and effective public defender of that landmark legislation in the media and in his many speaking appearances.
“It is an enormous pleasure to appoint Ninez Ponce as the new director of the Center,” said Dr. Jody Heymann, dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, which serves as the Center’s organizational home. “Ninez’s outstanding leadership in advancing our understanding of health disparities, and in moving from developing the best evidence base to public policy which changes lives represents public health at its most transformative. She will be following in the footsteps of a truly extraordinary leader who has contributed immensely to increasing access to health across the country: Jerry Kominski. We are deeply indebted to him for his leadership of the Center and the endless energy he brings to ensuring all Americans have access to health care.”