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Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University and Eastern Virginia Medical School plan to establish a joint school of public health to address health inequities in Hampton Roads. 

The presidents of all three institutions signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday, formally commiting to the effort.

The proposed name is the "ONE School of Public Health," representing the collaboration between all three institutions. 

The school, which would be the first of its kind in the state, will now go through the accreditation process from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

"This partnership changes the game," said Javaune Adams-Ghaston, NSU's president. "It allows all of us to use our resources, our knowledge, our research, and our support to change public health forever." 

The effort to start a school of public health received $5 million from the Virginia Assembly, with $2.5 million each going to ODU and NSU.

Sentara Healthcare also committed $4 million to the universities to support the accreditation process. 

Bonnie Van Lunen, Dean of the ODU College of Health Sciences, will serve as Interim Dean for the new school of public health. 

Although the school is not accredited yet, she said now that the memorandum of understanding is signed, they can have deeper discussions about what it will look like. 

Students will enroll through ODU and be able to choose different tracks between the schools. 

Initially, they plan to use existing facilities at each institution. 

Van Lunen said the fact that all three partners are in Norfolk makes it easier for collaboration. 

"I think our close proximity is great for the students," Van Lunen said. "We don't really want to be an online component, we really want to bring our communities together, have deep onversations, and we can do that here." 

Earlier this summer, EVMS announced they would create a Center for Health Equity after conducting a listening series with residents of Hampton Roads that highlighted health disparities in the region. 

"We can not ignore anymore the health disparities that exist in our neighborhoods," said Dr. Alfred Abuhamad, interim president at EVMS. "And the health of our community should be deeply measured by the health of those among us who are most vulnerable."