Biden Names Former North Carolina Health Secretary to Be New CDC Director
The White House announced Friday that a former Obama administration official with extensive experience in federal and state health services will be named the next leader of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Former North Carolina Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen comes with credentials that should help her lead the beleaguered agency, criticized for its response to the pandemic.
"Dr. Cohen is one of the nation's top physicians and health leaders with experience leading large and complex organizations, and a proven track record protecting Americans' health and safety," President Joe Biden said in a news release announcing the appointment.
"Her leadership through the COVID-19 crisis drew bipartisan praise, as did her successful transformation of North Carolina's Medicaid program and pivotal role in the bipartisan passage of Medicaid expansion," Biden added. "Before serving in North Carolina, Dr. Cohen held senior roles at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, where she helped implement Affordable Care Act programs, including expanding insurance coverage and protections."
Former CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky had nothing but praise for Cohen's record in public health.
"Dr. Cohen is a respected public health leader who helped North Carolina successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and has dedicated her career to improving health outcomes for all Americans," Walensky said in a statement. "Her unique experience and accomplished tenure in North Carolina -- along with her other career contributions -- make her perfectly suited to lead CDC as it moves forward by building on the lessons learned from COVID-19 to create an organization poised to meet public health challenges of the future.
"I can think of no better hands in which to leave this agency during a critical time in its history," Walensky added. "I wish Dr. Cohen and the dedicated people of CDC strength and the brightest successes in the next chapter.”
While Walensky was an infectious disease expert who had not worked in government leadership, Cohen was a senior official at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and North Carolina's health secretary for nearly five years.
Still, the job Cohen takes on will be a challenging one, including reforming the 13,000-person agency so that it can be more responsive to the next pandemic and communicating public health threats to a divided America.
“A tall order for even the most talented of leaders,” Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, who co-wrote a report on how to improve the CDC's operations and pandemic response, told the Washington Post recently.
Congressional action will be required for some issues the CDC could pursue, including greater authority to mandate state data reporting to the agency.
Cohen, 44, was educated at Yale and Harvard Universities as an internal medicine physician.
Her past work also includes working on HIV issues in South Africa and at the Department of Veterans Affairs on women's health. She also volunteered on the Healthcare.gov repair effort during the Obama years.
The Brookings Institution has more on CDC reforms.
SOURCES: White House, news release, June 16, 2023; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, statement, June 16, 2023; Washington Post