CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state health officer for West Virginia says she wants to be proactive in her new role.
“We can deliver (health) services forever, but the more we are able to get upstream on issues, the more we really can influence and change health down the road,” said Dr. Cathy Slemp.
Earlier this month, she was permanently named state health officer and commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health within the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
Since November, she’d been working in an interim role following the resignation of Dr. Rahul Gupta.
Dr. Slemp told MetroNews she thinks of health “pretty holistically.”
“It’s about far more than the absence of disease,” she explained.
“I also think that health and economic development are absolutely integrally intertwined and that — together — they really shape our individual and collective future in West Virginia.”
Regularly, the Mountain State lands at the top or near the top of negative national health rankings.
“That is changeable. The key to that is recognizing that the power to do so rests squarely, kind of, in all of our hands. It’s the Legislature and businesses and nonprofits and coalitions and individuals and families,” Dr. Slemp said.
“Public health is really a team sport.”
Going forward, she said her focus areas would include collaborative planning with partners, work on agency operations and workforce development and preparations for emerging infectious diseases along with health issues covering substance use disorder, tobacco effects on health and the economy, West Virginia’s aging population and healthier kids.
“They are complex issues. There isn’t a magic bullet, but if we all own it and we work towards it (improvement) a step at a time, we know we can make a difference with it,” she said.
This is Slemp’s second round in lead roles with DHHR.
In 1994, she was founding director for what is now the Bureau for Public Health’s Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and later directed state emergency preparedness efforts.
From 2002 to 2011, she served as acting state health officer.
She went on to work as a public health consultant for governmental, academic, professional and community organizations and as a relief and development coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia before returning to DHHR last year.
“Dr. Slemp has done tremendous work on behalf of DHHR not only since she returned in 2018, but throughout her career,” said Bill Crouch, DHHR secretary, in a statement.