Kenneth Smith


Dr. Kenneth Smith is a health economist and public health practitioner. He received his Doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he studied economic demography and health economics. His postgraduate research in health economics focused on risk adjustment, healthcare financing, pharmacoeconomic evaluation, provider practice behavior, health professional supply and demand, and the evaluation design of large national healthcare demonstration projects for persons with chronic disease. His work included developing and testing alternative risk adjusters for Medicare Advantage, developing a risk adjuster for dual eligibles in Colorado, and designing a risk adjuster to support the prioritization of funding to local health units in Regione Emilia-Romagna, Italy.  

Dr. Smith became a public health practitioner after he was appointed the Director of Chronic Disease Prevention, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, with a charge to promote health and reduce chronic disease using policy, systems, and environmental change strategies. There, he oversaw the City’s Tobacco Control Program; helped implement the City’s Clean Indoor Air Act and trans fats ban; and drafted a plan to improve access to fresh, affordable produce. As a result of Dr. Smith’s efforts, and with the assistance of community stakeholders, Philadelphia passed the nation’s most comprehensive menu labeling ordinance. Dr. Smith was the Lead Analyst for Chronic Disease and Environmental Health at the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO), where he built a national-level portfolio of projects around Health Impact Assessment, Health in All Policies, and community health assessment and planning; provided technical assistance to build community food systems; supported NACCHO advocacy efforts on the Hill; offered recommendations on menu labeling and trans fats regulations to the Food and Drug Administration; and studied the relationship between food safety and food grading and scoring systems.

Dr. Smith works collaboratively with advocates, coalitions, communities, and non-governmental organizations to address (1) systems dynamics that limit organizational transformation, and (2) wicked problems that keep health disparities locked in place. As Interim Director for the Center to Eliminate Health Disparities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, he was the lead for an 1115 Waiver project (the Race Ethnicity and Language [REAL] Data project), that enabled the collection and analysis of REAL data in the patient medical record, identification of health disparities, and development of plans to address those disparities. In addition to new data collection practices at the academic medical center, the project led to new partnerships among clinical academic departments and the community to address disparities in diabetes, low birthweight, and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Smith was the Principal Investigator for a multi-university study of the health of child refugees fleeing violence from Central America and Mexico, research that has helped inform policymakers in Texas and beyond. Dr. Smith used his expertise as a healthcare transformation specialist in the Texas Community-Centered Health Homes demonstration. As a coach to a dozen community health center teams, Dr. Smith supported the change management process by changing mindsets and offering technical assistance to support greater leadership and collaboration for upstream actions addressing the social determinants of health.  

More recently, as a senior analyst for the Texas Health Institute, Dr. Smith has worked with rural hospitals for regional community health assessment and planning. As project director for an HRSA-funded Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-Planning, he led the development of a cross-sectoral consortium and oversaw a needs assessment focused on prevention, treatment, and recovery in designated rural counties in East Texas. In partnership with the Stephen F. Austin University School of Social Work and local elected leaders, Dr. Smith conducted a study of local government expenditure trends and the implication of budgets and budget practices on community health. The research has informed strategies to address emerging health concerns in the two rural county study sites. In partnership with the Coalition for Texans with Disabilities, Dr. Smith conducted a cost analysis comparing the estimated costs with the potential cost offsets associated with offering a modest Medicaid preventative dental benefit to adults with disabilities. Through legislative testimony and strategic dissemination of the resulting policy brief, the measure passed during the 87th Texas legislative session.

As Assistant Professor for Public Health in the UTK School of Education, Health and Human Sciences, Dr. Smith is focusing on action research to address the structural determinants of health inequities at the local, national, and global levels. His teaching responsibilities include Healthcare Organizations: Behavior and Management and Health Policy. He currently is the board chair for Common Market Texas, an aggregator/distributor of local produce from farmers using sustainable agriculture techniques. He also is an advisor to Wellness for Greatness Kenya where he is co-chairing a global technical advisory group.