Michigan’s chief medical executive, who guided pandemic response, resigning

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who has helped lead Michigan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, is resigning from her role as the state’s chief medical executive.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced Khaldun’s resignation Friday, saying Khaldun is taking a role outside of state government. Her last day is Sept. 30.

Khaldun, also a working Henry Ford Health System emergency room doctor, has helped guide the decisions of Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services throughout the pandemic. Standing alongside the governor during COVID-19 status updates, she was often tasked with explaining where the outbreak stood, as well as answering questions about the science behind tracking the virus and mitigation protocols.

“Thanks to Dr. J’s around-the-clock leadership, our state acted quickly with the best available data and science to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save countless lives during the pandemic,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Michigan has one of the lowest number of cases per capita, and numerous studies show that the tough decisions we made helped save thousands of lives. At the height of COVID-19, we stood side by side to keep our state safe through one of the most difficult periods in our lives. Dr. J also sounded the alarm on COVID-19 disproportionately impacting people of color, and she co-chaired the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which has made significant progress towards reducing COVID-19 mortality rate disparities for Michiganders of color. While we wish we could keep Dr. J at the helm, I wish her the best of luck as she moves on to a well-deserved opportunity. The state of Michigan and I are incredibly grateful for your service.”

The release from the state did not say where Khaldun was going to work. She confirmed on Twitter it is a private sector job, but did not provide specifics.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian will take over as interim chief medical executive effective Oct. 1. She is an internal medicine doctor who received her medical degree from Wayne State University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan.

“These past months have been full of unprecedented challenges and change on the public health front, and there is much work to be done,” Bagdasarian said in a statement released by the governor’s office. “We can’t thank Dr. Khaldun enough for her work and leadership during her years with the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and MDHHS. I am honored to be named the state’s chief medical executive. I know we have a committed, resolute, and untiring team that cares deeply about public health and moving past this current crisis. I look forward to collaborating with MDHHS and the Governor’s office and other state departments to address this challenge and any others that may present in the future.”

An undated courtesy photo of Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the new interim chief medical executive for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The governor’s office says Bagdasarian has held roles in Michigan and around the world for a decade, having published 40 papers on infectious diseases and public health, and has been working with the World Health Organization on pandemic planning. For the last year, she has been in charge of Michigan’s COVID-19 testing strategy as the senior public health physician within MDHHS.

“I am proud to appoint Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian as chief medical executive. Michiganders across the state have benefited from Dr. Bagdasarian’s expertise through her work leading the state’s COVID-19 testing strategy to keep everyone safe,” Whitmer stated. “Dr. Bagdasarian is a world-renowned medical expert with a wealth of experience. She is a proven leader who will continue to guide us through the pandemic. I look forward to collaborating with her as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and keep Michigan healthy.”

“We are thrilled that an infectious diseases expert with her global experience will be able to step into the chief medical executive role quickly and seamlessly. Especially during a time when we need to maintain our momentum and focus on reducing COVID cases and hospitalizations, and increasing vaccinations,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel added in a statement.

Whitmer is looking for someone to fill the chief medical executive role on a permanent basis.

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