State health commissioner named White House fellow

Dr. Jeffrey Howard
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Dr. Jeffrey Howard, the state health commissioner, is leaving to become a White House fellow, a year-long job as a full-time assistant to senior White House staff, cabinet secretaries or other major officials of the federal government.

“Howard told his staff Friday he was leaving for a fellowship in Washington, said Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman Christina Dettman, who declined to specify what Howard would be doing,” reports Chris Kenning of the Louisville Courier Journal.
“Howard, who graduated medical school in 2014, was named Kentucky’s acting commissioner for public health in November 2017 and led the struggling state public-health system amid years of budget cuts and layoffs, a state pension crisis and an opioid-addiction epidemic. He took the job just as Kentucky declared an outbreak of hepatitis A, a contagious liver disease spread mostly among drug users.”
Howard was criticized for not taking stronger action against the outbreak, against the recommendations of the head of his infectious-disease branch. “Cabinet Secretary Adam Meier has vigorously defended Howard, who said the state responded with limited money to bolster vaccines in numbers that could feasibly be administered by county health departments,” Kenning notes.
Meier issued a statement Friday calling Howard “an invaluable asset” who “led the department through one of its most challenging times, building and strengthening relationships with local health department leadership along the way. His vision and leadership have positioned Kentucky’s public health system to transform successfully into a sustainable, effective, and responsive model that will be prepared to provide population health services, as well as survive the economic challenges presented by the ongoing pension liabilities.”

Kenning notes, “Howard was working on a plan to overhaul the state system to meet funding challenges, including fast-rising pension costs, by narrowing and prioritizing the most critical and state-required health department duties.”

Howard has said he was raised in Eastern Kentucky by a mother and stepfather who were addicted to drugs, and in and out of recovery. He said it wasn’t until he turned 14 and moved in with his father, became involved in sports, found his faith and met the woman who is now his wife, that he was able to overcome the many obstacles that substance abuse had put in his way.