The new Department of Public Health’s board, recently appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, features experienced leaders who can help tackle the state’s health problems, experts say.
All that talent will be needed. The agency, which became a standalone department July 1, faces plenty of challenges.
Georgia ranks 36th among the states on a prominent public health measure, and it ranks near the bottom on key measures such as infectious disease, infant mortality, cardiovascular deaths, and rate of residents without health insurance.
The state also has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity.
The commissioner of the new agency, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, also is addressing major administrative problems, some of which may involve past improprieties or mismanagement. (Here’s a recent GHN article on the task ahead for Public Health.)
The agency’s first board, though, has the expertise to help boost Georgia’s public health status, according to the Georgia Public Health Association.
The lineup includes Dr. James W. Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and Phillip Williams, founding dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia.
Williams chaired a legislative commission last year that recommended that Public Health be moved out of another state agency and become its own department. Curran served at CDC for more than two decades, including a stint as leader of the agency’s HIV research and prevention efforts.
Other Public Health board members are Dr. Kathryn Cheek, a Columbus pediatrician and current president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; James M. Smith of Braselton, a professor of environmental and occupational health at Emory’s Rollins School and a consultant in the field of biophysics; and Gary Nelson, who has served as president of Healthcare Georgia Foundation, a statewide, private independent foundation, since its inception in 2002.
Cynthia Greene is a Gainesville dentist and partner in a dental practice there. Dr. Mitch Rodriguez is the Macon region’s neonatal medical director, an associate professor of pediatrics at Mercer Medical School and a practicing neonatologist in Macon.
Dr. Robert S. Harshman is the medical director of Georgia Power/Southern Company as well as the Trojan Battery Company. And Donald Venn, retired chief of staff of the Georgia Army National Guard, currently serves as assistant adjutant general of operations for the Georgia Department of Defense.
The Georgia Public Health Association’s president, Todd Jones, called the board “an exceptional group.’’
“Each one has outstanding credentials, and as a group, they represent a true cross-section of expertise and experience,’’ Jones said. “I feel confident that they will provide the necessary guidance to help move the Department of Public Health forward in a positive direction.”