Price appoints Georgia health commissioner Fitzgerald to head CDC

HHS Secretary Tom Price on Friday named current Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner and state health officer Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald the next director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fitzgerald will also serve as administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Price said in the announcement.

Fitzgerald has served as Georgia's public health commissioner since 2011. She is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist.

During her tenure, Fitzgerald has handled a number of public health crises with national implications. In 2014, she led a task force to prepare the state's response effort to for a potential Ebola outbreak. More recently she has been tasked to lead the state's effort to combat the spread of the Zika virus. Georgia has had 118 cases reported from January 2016 to May 2017. 

The nomination earned praise from public health experts, who called Fitzgerald a "solid choice" with experience in the field.

"The academic public health community looks forward to working constructively with Dr. Fitzgerald to advance our shared agenda of improving health locally, nationally and globally through the creation, transmission and application of public health knowledge and a well-prepared and resourced public health workforce," said Donna Petersen, chair of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, in a statement.

Fitzgerald is the current president-elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, and was slated to assume the role of president in September. 

"(Fitzgerald's) perspectives gained from clinical practice as well as serving as chief of a state public health agency will be crucial to her success as director of our nation's premiere public health agency," Dr. Jay Butler, current ASTHO president and chief medical officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said in a statement.

Prior to her role as Georgia health commissioner, Fitzgerald worked as a healthcare policy advisor with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Paul Coverdell and served as a major in the U.S. Air Force.

"She has a real passion for improving people's health," said American Public Health Association Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin. 

Benjamin said he hoped Fitzgerald's familiarity with HHS Secretary Tom Price, a former Georgia senator, would provide her with access to make a strong case for strengthening funding support for the CDC.

"Having known Dr. 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," Price said in a statement. "We look forward to working with Dr. Fitzgerald to achieve President Trump's goal of strengthening public health surveillance and ensuring global health security at home and abroad." 

The CDC stands to lose as much as 12% of its overall budget if the Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act becomes law. The bill calls for elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was created under the Affordable Care Act and provides more than $600 million annually to state and municipal health departments to fund infectious and chronic disease programs, as well as support emergency preparedness efforts. 

"She understands what the prevention fund does and how other CDC funding support the states," Benjamin said. "She could make a good argument for that at the state level." 

Fitzgerald replaces Dr. Anne Schuchat, who has served in the role of interim CDC director since former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden resigned from the post in January. Schuchat is expected to return to her former role as CDC principal deputy director, according to an HHS statement.