Critical Role

Justice needs to find a bureau leader

In terms of guarding West Virginians against serious threats to our physical wellbeing, the state Bureau for Public Health may be the most important agency in Charleston. From guarding against food-borne outbreaks to finding ways to battle substance abuse, the bureau plays a critical role.

Having a decisive, intelligent chief for the bureau is vitally important.

Earlier this year, longtime Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta announced he would be departing to take a job with the March of Dimes. Wednesday was his last day on the job.

Dr. Cathy Slemp will serve as interim chief health officer, it was announced by Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch.

Slemp has good credentials. She was acting chief health officer from 2002-2011. Clearly, she has experience not just in public health but also in dealing with a big state bureaucracy. Both skills are necessary.

Whether Slemp is being considered as a permanent replacement for Gupta was unclear. One question legislators may have in that regard is why on earth her previous “acting” service lasted so long.

The sooner the top position at the bureau can be settled, the better, if for no other reason than that the “interim” in Slemp’s title puts her at somewhat of a disadvantage.

There are 130 separate programs under the agency’s umbrella. It deals with threats such as the recent hepatitis A outbreak in several counties, deals with local health departments, addresses environmental threats such as contaminated drinking water, licenses asbestos removal specialists and handles dozens of other tasks.

Clearly, a top-notch, versatile leader is needed at the bureau. Gov. Jim Justice’s administration should make it a priority to get one in place as soon as possible.

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