Nearly a dozen physicians — including two short-term state public health directors — applied to become director of the Ohio Department of Health amid the COVID-19 crisis, the worst pandemic to gut America in more than a century.
Gov Mike DeWine, who stressed public health experience when he appointed former health director Dr. Amy Acton in 2019, chose Stephanie McCloud, a lawyer and director of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, on Nov. 5 to lead the department.
McCloud’s selection came after Dr. Joan Duwve, South Carolina public health director, agreed to become Ohio’s director on Sept. 10, only to quit hours later amid concern for her family after protesters targeted the home of Acton, who resigned Aug. 4.
A public records request by The Dispatch found that several medical professionals applied to become the Ohio health director before and after Duwve’s reversal and the governor’s ultimate choice of McCloud.
A governor’s office spokeswoman declined to comment on which applicants were interviewed and whether any were considered finalists for the job.
Among the applicants:
- Dr. Eli Avilia, a lawyer, supervising occupational medicine physician at an Army base and former Pennsylvania health secretary for nearly two years.
- Dr. Karin Verlaine Rhodes, a vice president of Northwell Health in New York and New Mexico public health director for about a year until early this year.
- Dr. Jonathan Leizman, chief medical officer of Premise Health, a direct health-care company serving 11 million people, and former medical director of the Cleveland Clinic At Work program.
- Dr. Barbara Messinger-Rapport, medical director of a Beachwood hospice and former director of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
- Dr. Shaza Aouthmany, assistant dean of graduate medical education at the University of Toledo Medical Center.
- Dr. Michael Jacobson, former director of graduate medical education at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and chief of medical staff at an Air Force base.
DeWine billed McCloud, who is not a physician, as a management and administrative expert who could handle logistics such as distributing a virus vaccine. He also pointed to her experience managing the agency that provides medical care for injured workers.
The governor said he appointed Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, former chief medical officer at OhioHealth, as the state’s chief medical officer to take the lead on health advice.
State law requires Ohio’s state health director to be a physician or to have “significant experience in the public health profession.”
The governor also cited McCloud’s service for more than 12 years on the board of Maryhaven behavioral health and treatment center and six years on the Counselor, Social Worker, Marriage and Family Therapist Board.
Lance Himes, long the state health department’s general counsel, served as interim health director after Acton resigned. He was health director in 2017-18 under former Gov. John Kasich after Rick Hodges, a former director of the Ohio Turnpike, left the top slot.