The CDC is getting a new leader as it seeks to remake itself after the pandemic
Dr. Mandy Cohen, former head of North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Department, will be stepping in as the public health agency’s new director in July.
The former North Carolina health secretary is set to take over in July as director for the nation’s public health agency, which is looking to reinvent itself in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, who led North Carolina’s Health and Human Services Department during the pandemic and was most recently executive vice president at the health care company Aledade and CEO of Aledade Care Solutions, will succeed Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who announced her departure in May just as the COVID-19 states of emergency were ending. Walensky has sought to reform the roughly 12,000-employee agency to avoid repeating mistakes made during the pandemic, an ongoing challenge that Cohen will inherit.
Cohen’s “unique experience and accomplished tenure in North Carolina – along with her other career contributions – make her perfectly suited to lead CDC as it moves forward by building on the lessons learned from COVID-19 to create an organization poised to meet public health challenges of the future,” Walensky said in a statement on June 16. “I can think of no better hands in which to leave this agency during a critical time in its history.”
In addition to her work in North Carolina, Cohen served as chief operating officer and chief of staff for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and acting director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. She played a significant role in developing and implementing policies surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the White House said in a statement announcing her appointment.
Cohen will start her new role on July 9. In the meantime, CDC Principal Deputy Director Nirav Shah will serve as acting director, Walensky wrote in a farewell message to staff on Friday.
Cohen may be one of the last CDC directors who did not require Senate confirmation; the fiscal 2023 omnibus spending act will require the chamber to sign off on the agency’s leaders beginning in January 2025.
Outgoing director Walensky struck an optimistic note for her successor, in a New York Times opinion piece Tuesday titled “What I Need to Tell America Before I Leave the CDC.” Despite the challenges of getting “sidelined, chastened by early missteps with COVID and battered by persistent scrutiny,” Americans must see the need “for a strong public health system and for a robust CDC,” she wrote.
“I’m hopeful for the future of public health in America because of the people I met during my tenure who, in spite of the challenges, care deeply about this work,” Walensky wrote. “Among the greatest gifts of my time at the C.D.C. has been meeting the people of the agency who worry about public health day and night so that you do not have to.”
Additionally, she wrote in her parting email that when, not if, there is another public health emergency, CDC "will unequivocally, expertly, and tirelessly be there."