Western University of Health Sciences has turned to a respected voice to talk to policy makers about its innovative programs.

Brenda Premo, director of the Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions at WesternU, has been given the additional title and duties of Assistant Vice President of Government Relations for the university.

“We have a lot of talent on campus, a lot of ability,” Premo said. “We will look at ways to make our programs visible, to get our ideas into the policy debate.”

WesternU wants to highlight its innovative new methods of teaching students how to be lifelong learners, she said. A higher profile for the university’s programs will broaden its visibility and increase the number of qualified students who want to come here, she said.

Premo reports directly to President Philip Pumerantz and is responsible for coordinating university interactions with county, state and federal policy makers. She will coordinate university efforts on public policy and white papers for distribution to lawmakers. She also will coordinate on-campus forums on key health and disability policy issues.

“She is a charming, bright, innovative professional who has had years of experience in government work as a member of (former California) Gov. Wilson’s management team in Sacramento,” Pumerantz said. “We are fortunate to have her here.”

WesternU and Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally, D-Compton, are organizing two symposiums on “Health Care for the 21st Century” on Oct. 5 and Nov. 2. Among the guests will be Herb Schultz, senior public policy adviser for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“She’s an inside-outside person – she knows the inside of government and she understands what the outside has to do,” Dymally said of Premo. “She’s very astute, very knowledgeable, easy to work with and she understands the system.”

President Ronald Reagan tapped Premo to serve on the National Council on Disability in 1986, where she helped develop legislation that evolved into the Americans with Disabilities Act, approved in 1990.

She joined Western University in 1999 as founding director of the Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions after serving four years as director of the state Department of Rehabilitation under Gov. Pete Wilson.

While serving as director of the California Department of Rehabilitation, Premo worked with Kim Belshé, then the director of Health Services. Their collaboration continues to this day.

Belshé, now secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, appointed Premo chairwoman of the Olmstead Advisory Committee in 2004, which advised her office on the implementation of the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the placement of persons with disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions.

Premo is fun to work with and is committed to advancing good policy for all Californians, especially seniors and persons with disabilities, Belshé said.

“I think Brenda is a real bridge builder,” Belshé said. “I think she is very effective at connecting different stakeholder groups and perspectives and facilitating discussion in a way that endeavors to find points of compromise and common ground.”

Premo will continue her duties as director of the Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions. The center focuses on improving the capabilities of health care providers to meet the needs of people with disabilities, increasing the number of qualified individuals with disabilities who pursue careers in the health professions, supporting people with disabilities in becoming more vocal and active participants in their health care, and conducting and disseminating research on community-based health education, prevention and health care services for people with disabilities.

WesternU wants to play a key role in vital issues such as financing health care and creating a health care delivery system for the 21st century, Premo said. The university has educational models in place that could benefit others.