The history of IIHHS necessarily begins with the vision and leadership of Dr. Vida Huber, who anticipated the growing importance and the vast potential of campus and community connections with the establishment of the Nursing Research and Outreach Center (NROC) in 1998. On the basis of a community-based nursing curriculum, the energies of the faculty were oriented toward addressing the health care needs of area communities, particularly those of vulnerable and disenfranchised groups. The voices of community partners were central to NROC and from the beginning they were linked to existing programs serving the region. These included the Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Shenandoah Valley Migrant Education Program, and the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Office on Children and Youth. Coexisting with these partnerships would be programs developed at JMU to advance teaching, learning, practice and research in the health and human service arena. The vision in 1999 was that JMU would house them together to consolidate space for clinical and outreach services.
During the 2001-2002 academic year, the Center for Innovation in Health and Human Services was formed, which included NROC and its outreach partners. Facilities included two trailers with extra space in a modular building and Dr. Huber began to make the case for locating the programs of the Center at Blue Ridge Hall. The rationale addressed the need to gather programs from disparate points around the campus along with partnership programs serving the community into a consolidated home that could better foster cross-disciplinary initiatives. Some of these programs provided clinical services on site and some were grant-funded to provide services in the community. Student preparation for careers in health and human services and the commitment of the University to serving the Commonwealth would both be enhanced by a culture of collaboration, efficiency gains, higher visibility, and improved community access that Blue Ridge Hall would provide.
The transition into Blue Ridge Hall was accomplished and the entire scope of programs, infrastructure, and organization that had emerged by that time took on a new identity, becoming officially recognized by the Provost in 2003 as the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS).
The establishment of IIHHS was guided by a novel paradigm for how the University may solve problems in health and human services and provide cutting edge training for students while addressing significant community needs. This vision was rooted in the strong conviction that the health and human service professionals of the future, across disciplines, would need to overcome the barriers that traditional systems of care and/or service imposed and that the University has an obligation to nurture innovations in knowledge and practice that can surmount those barriers to yield outcomes beneficial to both campus and community. Academic departments gained a uniquely valuable resource through IIHHS for advancing clinical education services, fostering interprofessional education and practice, forging mutually beneficial relationships between the campus and community, and preparing future health and human service professionals for 21st century roles.