April 24, 2017

Surgeon General Murthy refuses to resign—and is dismissed

Daily Briefing

    The Trump administration dismissed Surgeon General Vivek Murthy from his post Friday, replacing him with his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams.

    Trent-Adams has been a nurse in the U.S. Public Health Service for 24 years, serving as its CNO. Trent-Adams also has held other positions at HHS. She is the first non-doctor to assume the role of surgeon general, according to Modern Healthcare. Trent-Adams received her master's in nursing and health policy and doctorate of philosophy from the University of Maryland.

    Murthy's dismissal

    HHS in a statement said, "Murthy, the leader of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, was asked to resign from his duties as surgeon general after assisting in a smooth transition into the new [administration]." The statement continued, "Murthy has been relieved of his duties as surgeon general and will continue to serve as a member of the Commissioned Corps."

    In a Facebook post regarding his dismissal, Murthy wrote, "I chose not to resign as surgeon general when asked to do so ... because I would never willfully abandon my commitment to my Commissioned Corps officers, to the American people, and to all who have stood with me to build a healthier and more compassionate America."

    Murthy also praised Trent-Adams, writing that she "is the right person to step into this role." He added, "Her deep wealth of experience is matched only by the immense size of her heart. I know she will serve with distinction."

    Murthy—a former attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a medical instructor at Harvard Medical School, and co-founder and president of Doctors for America—was confirmed by the Senate in 2014 to serve as the 19th surgeon general of the United States. Murthy's nomination faced several roadblocks over his stance on guns as a public health issue. 

    During his time as surgeon general, Murthy forwarded a public health agenda focused on preventive care and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health care. He also oversaw the publication of a landmark report on substance use disorders and warned against electronic cigarettes. 

    Reaction

    Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in a statement criticized the dismissal. He said, "U.S. surgeons general are not supposed to be fired midterm. They have served administrations of both political parties because keeping Americans safe and healthy isn't a partisan issue." Murphy added, "Murthy helped steer our country through the frightening Ebola and Zika outbreaks, and rightfully focused on the devastation of addiction."

    'A moral test for America': Surgeon General calls for action on drug, alcohol misuse

    James Currie—executive director of the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service, which represents officers in the Public Health Service—said his group is planning a campaign to urge President Trump to nominate a permanent surgeon general from within the ranks of the Public Health Service, which, he said, is required by federal law.

    White House nominates former SAMHSA director to be assistant HHS secretary

    Meanwhile, the White House on Friday announced Trump has nominated Elinore McCance-Katz to serve as the assistant secretary in HHS—a newly created role under the 21st Century Cures Act that is charged with overseeing the agency and coordinating mental health care services, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    McCance-Katz currently serves as the CMO in Rhode Island's office of behavioral health care. She previously led the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) but left the post in 2015. Shortly after departing SAMHSA, McCance-Katz in a Psychiatric Times article criticized the agency's approach to mental health care.

    McCance-Katz must be confirmed by the Senate before she can assume the assistant secretary position (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 4/22; Bernstein, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/22; Teichert, Modern Healthcare, 4/21; Eversley, USA Today, 4/21; Murthy Facebook post, 4/21; Hackman, Wall Street Journal, 4/23).

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