Advance Notice: Briefs

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun to step down as Michigan’s chief medical executive 

By: - September 24, 2021 3:08 pm

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun | Whitmer office photo

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun will leave her post as the state’s top doctor next week after more than a year and a half of leading Michigan’s ongoing battle against COVID-19, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in a news release Friday afternoon. 

Khaldun, the chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), has accepted a position in the private sector. Her last day in state government will be next Thursday, Sept. 30, the release said.

No further details were provided about Khaldun’s new job. Khaldun said in a tweet that she will continue to practice emergency medicine part-time at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, a senior public health physician with the DHHS, will serve as the interim chief medical executive while the state conducts a national search for Khaldun’s replacement.

“This work has been the honor of my life,” Khaldun said in Friday’s release. “I’ve been inspired by the entire [health department] team and their expertise and dedication to serving the people of Michigan. Dr. Bagdasarian is an accomplished public health expert and epidemiologist, and I am confident she will serve the state well in this new role.”

Khaldun called her departure “very bittersweet,” but said she is “excited for this new and unique opportunity to continue doing my life’s work of advancing bold programs and policies that promote the health of all communities.”

Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for the state of Michigan and chief deputy director for Health in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services at Ford Field in Detroit on March 24 | state of Michigan photo

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, Khaldun has been a visible presence across the state and regularly provided public updates on the pandemic alongside Whitmer. The doctor has been a vocal advocate for vaccinations and masks, and over the summer she urged DHHS to implement a mask mandate for the state’s schools something the Whitmer administration did last school year but not this year. 

Whitmer said in the release that, “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.”

Khaldun’s leadership during COVID slowed the spread of the disease and saved “countless lives,” Whitmer said. The governor also pointed to Khaldun’s successful efforts reducing COVID-19 mortality rate disparities for Michiganders of color. 

“Dr. J … sounded the alarm on COVID-19 disproportionately impacting people of color,” Whitmer said.

Khaldun co-chaired the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, and, earlier this year, President Joe Biden named her to the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Prior to her tenure as the state’s chief medical executive, Khaldun was the director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian | Photo courtesy DHHS

DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel too thanked Khaldun and noted that Bagdasarian “has been working 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.”

“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,” Hertel said.

Bagdasarian has a background in internal medicine and infectious diseases. Over the past year, she has overseen the state’s COVID testing strategy as the DHHS’ senior public health physician.

“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, and also thanked Khaldun for her service. 

Khaldun is the second high-profile official at DHHS to leave during the pandemic. About nine months ago, then-DHHS Director Robert Gordon resigned after Whitmer asked him to do so. Whitmer told MLive there were no policy disagreements that led to Khaldun leaving DHHS and said the two had “a very respectful dialogue.”

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is a former assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats included economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.