State’s top doc during pandemic leaves for new job

Michigan

Michigan Chief Medical Executive Doctor Joneigh Khaldun at a coronavirus briefing on Jan. 22, 2021. (Courtesy of the Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, who served as the state’s top doctor during the COVID pandemic, is leaving her job as Michigan’s chief medical executive.

“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,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a press release, using the nickname for Dr. Khaldun. “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.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, provides an update on coronavirus as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer looks on during a Dec. 15, 2020, press conference in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of Governor)

The announcement by the Governor’s office says Dr. Khaldun is taking a new job outside of state government.

Dr. Khaldun became a household name in Michigan because of her frequent appearances at press conferences hosted by Whitmer. There was rarely an event at which the doctor didn’t appear at the governor’s side. She frequently updated the public on the medical situation and urged people to protect themselves – first by staying home and wearing masks, and then by getting the vaccine once it became available.

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer provides an update on coronavirus in Michigan on June 1, 2020, as Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, looks on. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

Dr. Khaldun also took part in numerous town halls, answering questions the public had about the virus and how to stay safe.

She also helped call attention to, and then fight the racial disparities as the virus spread – particularly in the early days of the pandemic.

“I want to personally thank Dr. Joneigh Khaldun for her unwavering dedication and service to our state. Her extensive knowledge and direction have been invaluable as we navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and she has been a critical leader of our Racial Disparities Task Force,” said Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist in a press release. “She has been a tremendous example of what it means to be a leader, as she served not only as our Chief Medical Executive but also continued to provide lifesaving healthcare to patients on the frontlines of this pandemic in emergency rooms.”

While Whitmer and Khaldun often seemed in lock-step, particularly in the early days of the crisis, their paths diverged in the last few weeks, as Whitmer declined Khaldun’s advice to require all K-12 students in Michigan to wear masks. Whitmer says that decision ought to remain up to each individual school district.

Dr. Khaldun’s last day on the job is September 30th.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian will serve as chief medical executive for the state of Michigan starting October 1st, while the state looks for a permanent replacement.

“Dr. Bagdasarian has been serving as a senior public health physician at MDHHS during the pandemic, focused on testing strategies and community access, and most recently has been on sabbatical working with the World Health Organization on COVID -19 planning,” said Elizabeth Hertel, Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in a press release. “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.

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