Beginning this month, members of a new Columbia think tank will search for solutions to South Carolina's health problems.

The S.C. Institute of Medicine and Public Health received a three-year, $725,000 grant from the Duke Endowment to study issues that include preventing chronic diseases and implementing federal health care reform.

Staffers will testify before the Legislature, offering non- partisan recommendations based on their research, said Lee Pearson, the group's executive director.

The new institute replaced the S.C. Public Health Institute, an independent research group that also had been funded by the Duke Endowment, on Friday.

The four staffers of the former group now work for the new institute, which soon will add three new researchers, Pearson said.

"We will convene experts on the critical issues facing South Carolina and offer consensus solutions to the state," he said. "We have an a la carte menu of things that need to be examined."

The group will announce its board of directors by the end of August, said CEO Kester Freeman, who formerly was CEO of Palmetto Health hospital system. The board will include doctors, hospital representatives, insurers and state government officials, among other health care experts, Freeman said.

The institute, which eventually will apply for nonprofit status, will seek funding from philanthropic groups and from the state, he said.