UNMC to hold Oct. 4 reception for Ira Combs

Recognized last month by White House as Champion of Change

Video of Ira Combs

You learn something -- you have to give back.

That's the philosophy Ira Combs, community nurse liaison in the Center for Reducing Health Disparities in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, has had for more than 20 years as he has encouraged African-Americans to become involved in health education.

An oncology nurse whose emphasis now is public health, Combs was selected by the White House as a Public Health and Prevention Champion of Change, a person leading extraordinary efforts in prevention and public health that will have lasting effects on the health of Americans. Nearly 900 people were nominated.

Combs was honored at a White House reception on Sept. 10 and participated in a panel discussion describing his work. Champions of Change help communities focus on prevention and public health by tackling childhood obesity, health disparities and health care-acquired infections. They innovate ways to make America healthier based on wellness and prevention.

To celebrate Combs being named a Champion of Change, the UNMC College of Public Health will hold a reception for him from 4 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 4. The reception will be held in the third floor atrium. The building is located at 519 S. 39th Plaza.

The reception is open to the public. Those  planning to attend should RSVP to Stephon McNeil, 402-559-9660, smcneil@unmc.edu.

A non-traditional student, Combs received his nursing degree at the age of 40 and immediately created the North Omaha Area Health (NOAH), an agency that addresses the needs of the underserved in North Omaha.

“With limited funding, I work with a handful of dedicated community volunteers to produce health-oriented comics and coloring books for kids, and sponsor and maintain websites and social media networks that provide information about healthy living,” he said.

Combs is perhaps best known for his puppet characters – Dr. Jesse, Dr. Healthy (a woman doctor) and Mr. Jones, who never does anything right. He also has created a variety of African-American superheroes such as Prevention Man, Medical Dude and Vernon the Vegetarian Veggie Bird – all who make it fun to learn about health.

He also started Youth Expression of Health, which includes an annual youth summer internship program in partnership with UNMC. It has helped more than 45 young people prepare for and start college with a focus on entering the field of health care. Combs also coordinates health screenings and interventions for minority and underserved populations.

"I try to keep people healthy so they don't have to go to the emergency room," he said.

“This is what it's all about,” Combs said. “Reaching people one-by-one at their point of need can change their life and the lives of their family. I thought about retiring last year, but with this award I will use it to benefit the community. This is quite an honor.”

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.

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Liz Kumru
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4691

Tom O'Connor
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4690 (office)
(402) 650-7063 (cell)