RALEIGH — A Lumberton native has been appointed state Health director and leader of the newly combined Division of Prevention, Access and Public Health Services, according to a statement from Gov. Bev Perdue’s office.
Dr. Laura Gerald, a pediatrician and the former executive director of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund, which uses one-fourth of the state’s tobacco settlement funds for programs to eliminate tobacco use, obesity and health disparities, takes the place of Dr. Jeff Engel, who has held the post since 2009. He will take on a broader policy-making role with the Office of the Secretary as a special adviser on health policy. Gerald and Engel will take their new posts Feb. 1.
Following her medical training at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1998, Gerald returned to Lumberton as part of the National Health Service Corps to practice general pediatrics at the Lumberton Children’s Clinic, where she continues to work on the weekends.
She received her master’s degree in minority health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2002 as a Commonwealth Fund Harvard University Fellow.
Gerald could not be reached for this story.
Bill Smith, the Robeson County Health director, said he hopes Gerald will continue to confront the health issues that the county faces.
“We certainty haven’t had anyone from Robeson County named to the position,” Smith said. “It is an tremendous honor.”
Smith said that Gerald was an innovator at the Lumberton Children’s Clinic, emphasizing asthma and diabetes treatment before it was on the state or national radar.
“When you look a the track record of the Children’s Clinic, I think she will do a fine job,” Smith said. “She’s certainty going to look at the issues of disparities in health, which is something we suffer here in Robeson County.”
During the past decade, Gerald has been a consultant and senior adviser for Community Care of North Carolina on disease management, quality improvement, cost-containment efforts and coordination across state agencies. Most recently she has served as an adviser to the secretary on community care and chaired the Governor’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force.
“Dr. Gerald is a distinguished medical professional who has brought unparalleled success to the enormously important, and historic, challenges that I have put before her,” Perdue said in the statement. “Now I have asked her to serve the people of North Carolina again as we bring these important offices together in our continuing efforts to consolidate and reorganize state government to better aid our communities.”
The leadership moves in the Department of Health and Human Services coincide with the governor’s executive order encouraging agencies to consolidate and realign state government.
“As we move to enact the governor’s executive order, the focus shifts to a more integrated approach to improving the health of all North Carolinians,” said outgoing DHHS Secretary Lanier Cansler. “Dr. Gerald brings a clinical perspective to this role from her training and practice as a pediatrician, and more than a decade of experience in promoting prevention and access to quality care. …I believe DHHS will have the right combination of experience and vision in positioning Drs. Gerald and Engel to guide us through this process.”