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Joneigh Khaldun steps down as chief medical executive, new interim chief appointed

September 27, 2021
<p>Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks at a press conference for a COVID-19 update on Nov. 19, 2020. Courtesy of Michigan Executive Office of the Governor</p>

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun speaks at a press conference for a COVID-19 update on Nov. 19, 2020. Courtesy of Michigan Executive Office of the Governor

On Sept. 24, 2021, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian as Michigan’s new chief medical executive after former chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun accepted a new position. 

Khaldun was tasked with leading the state through the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of her research on the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on communities of color, and her leadership of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, she was appointed to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. 

“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. “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.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist also professed his thanks to Dr. Khaldun.

“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 health care to patients on the frontlines of this pandemic in emergency rooms," Gilchrist said. "I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside Dr. Khaldun and to have learned from her.”

Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, or MDHHS, Elizabeth Hertel praised Khaldun's leadership throughout the pandemic.

“Her leadership, consultation, determination, and candor have been invaluable in guiding the decisions that have always been in the best interest of keeping Michiganders safe and healthy,” Khaldun said. “I and the entire MDHHS team, respect and appreciate the dedication and sacrifices she made alongside all of us with the goal of protecting our state and its residents.”

Khaldun said her work with MDHHS has been “the honor” of her life.

“I’ve been inspired by the entire MDHHS team and their expertise and dedication to serving the people of Michigan,” Khaldun said. “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, who is leaving the state government to accept a role that has yet to be announced said, “This is very bittersweet, but I am 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.”

Bagdasarian will serve as Michigan’s chief medical executive as a nationwide search continues for someone to fill the position permanently. Bagdasarian has a background in infectious diseases, and helped to educate the international community on how to prepare for outbreaks. As the former senior public health physician with the Department of Health and Human Services, Bagdasarian oversaw the state’s COVID-19 testing strategy. 

Hertel said she is 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.”

Bagdasarian most recently spent time working at the World Health Organization to plan for the pandemic. Additionally, she has authored 40 publications on public health and infectious disease.

“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. “We can’t thank Dr. Khaldun had 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 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.”

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