33 Com­mis­sioner of health City of Bal­ti­more

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - —Har­ris Meyer

DR. LEANA WEN WAS 8 YEARS OLD when she and her fam­ily ar­rived in the U.S. from China seek­ing po­lit­i­cal asy­lum. She strug­gled with a se­vere speech stut­ter.

She earned her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in bio­chem­istry and grad­u­ated summa cum laude at 18 from Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, go­ing on to at­tend med­i­cal school at Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. She even­tu­ally beat her stut­ter and be­came a com­pelling public speaker dur­ing her ten­ure as pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion.

Prac­tic­ing emer­gency medicine and teach­ing as a pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, Wen soon re­al­ized she wanted to pre­vent pa­tients from hav­ing to come to the ER with gun­shot wounds and other mal­adies as­so­ci­ated with bad public health con­di­tions. “I’ve seen the chal­lenges my pa­tients face ev­ery day, and the work we do in hospi­tals can’t solve these prob­lems alone,” Wen said.

Early last year, she got the chance to tackle those broader ills. Named com­mis­sioner of the Bal­ti­more De­part­ment of Health, she took charge of an agency with over 1,000 em­ploy­ees and a $130 mil­lion bud­get. Soon af­ter, she played a lead role in the city’s emer­gency re­sponse to the demon­stra­tions and vi­o­lence fol­low­ing the death of Fred­die Gray, a young black man who died in po­lice cus­tody. The Gray case, she said, spurred broader public aware­ness of struc­tural racism and lead poi­son­ing among poor black chil­dren.

She also launched an ag­gres­sive preven­tion and treat­ment pro­gram for opi­oid ad­dic­tion, in­clud­ing a ci­ty­wide stand­ing or­der for nalox­one that makes it avail­able to all city res­i­dents.

Work­ing with health­care providers, Wen re­cently re­leased a 10-year plan to bring the African-Amer­i­can rates of lead poi­son­ing, heart dis­ease, obe­sity, smok­ing and over­doses closer to the much-lower lev­els of white res­i­dents. “I can’t imag­ine an­other job where I get to make this much im­pact on peo­ple’s lives and trans­form­ing the city,” she said.

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