Brenda Fitzgerald, the former public health commissioner for the state of Georgia, has been named the new director of the CDC.
Fitzgerald replaces Tom Frieden, who stepped down in January after serving for eight years. Anne Schuchat, a longtime CDC employee, was serving as acting CDC director in the interim, the Washington Post's "To Your Health" reports.
According to "To Your Health," Fitzgerald joins the CDC at a critical time for the agency.
Not only is the agency facing the growing threat of disease outbreaks such as Zika and antibiotic-resistant infections, but it also faces a potential $1.2 billion cut in funding for fiscal year 2018. If the cut, proposed by the Trump administration, takes effect, it will result in the lowest CDC budget in more than 20 years, "To Your Health" reports. The proposal also includes more than $100 million in cuts for emergency preparedness.
Fitzgerald, 70, practiced medicine as an OB-GYN for 30 years before Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) selected her to head the state's health department in 2011. Fitzgerald is also president-elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), a not-for-profit that represents the country's public health agencies.
She previously has served as a major in the U.S. Air Force and was at one point the president of the Georgia OB-GYN Society. In addition, Fitzgerald served as one of Newt Gingrich's health policy advisers when he was Speaker of the House. Fitzgerald has also run for public office, losing the Republication nomination for Georgia's 7th Congressional District twice in the early 1990s.
According to STAT News, Fitzgerald earned her undergraduate degree at Georgia State University and graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in 1977.
Fitzgerald's position on key health issues
As head of Georgia's health department, Fitzgerald has said the three primary responsibilities of public health work are inspections, disease surveillance, and emergency response. While in Georgia, Fitzgerald pushed programs that encouraged language development among babies, anti-obesity programs, and assisted in the coordination of the state's Ebola outbreak response.
According to STAT News, Fitzgerald in 2015 publicly endorsed vaccinations as the "best protection against measles and a host of other infectious diseases."
During her runs for political office in the early 1990s, Fitzgerald also spoke publicly about abortion, saying while she opposes federal funding for the procedure, and believes it should have some restrictions, saying she thinks a woman and her medical team should have the final say. Fitzgerald at the time said, during her career as a licensed physician, she has not personally performed an abortion for a patient.
Fitzgerald on Friday said she was "humbled by the challenges that lie ahead" in her new role, but remained "confident that the successes we've had in Georgia will provide me with a foundation for guiding the work of the CDC."
While making the announcement, HHS secretary Tom Price said, "Having known Fitzgerald for many years, I know that she has a deep appreciation and understanding of medicine, public health, policy, and leadership—all qualities that will prove vital as she leads the CDC in its work to protect America's health 24/7."
Frieden also praised Fitzgerald's appointment. "It's a good thing that she has experience running a public health agency," he said. "That's critically important to being successful at CDC." Citing the importance of protecting CDC's budget, Frieden added, "If she's willing to listen to the staff and learn from the staff and then to understand that a large part of her role is to support them ... she can be very successful."
Jay Butler, who serves as ASTHO's current president and CMO for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, also praised Fitzgerald's appointment, saying "her perspectives gained from clinical practice as well as serving as chief of a state public health agency will be crucial to her success" (Branswell, STAT News, 7/6; Sun, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 7/7).
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