CHARLESTON — State Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta says he wants to make a bigger impact on the health of moms and babies.
Gupta and the March of Dimes announced Tuesday that Gupta has been named the national organization’s senior vice president and chief medical and health officer.
“I asked myself, ‘Where am I spending a lot of my time?” Gupta told MetroNews. “It seemed like it was the opioid crisis and the health of the moms and babies and these two are often not separate, they are interconnected. It was important to think how we can impact those things in a larger, broader scale.’
March of Dimes President Stacey Stewart said Gupta would provide leadership, vision and a passion for prevention to meet the organization’s goals.
“State and federal data show that the health of pregnant women and babies in this country is getting worse, and there’s an urgent need for the type of innovative solutions that Dr. Gupta has made his hallmark,” Stewart said in a news release announcing Gupta’s hiring.
Gupta, who has been the state’s chief health officer since 2015, said he was looking forward to the new challenge.
“I’m pleased to be joining March of Dimes, an organization that’s fighting for the health of all families, no matter who they are, where they live or what they can afford,” Gupta said.
Gupta came to West Virginia from Nashville in 2009. His first job was as the chief executive and medical director at the Kanawha/Charleston Health Department. He led the organization through an H1N1 scare, a controversial indoor smoking ban implementation and the response to the 2014 chemical spill and drinking water emergency. The opioid crisis has dominated his time as chief health officer, a job he took three years ago.
Gupta said his new job will provide an opportunity for a national and global impact by working with talented colleagues to address the challenges of tomorrow for mothers and their children.
“It’s important for us to do that because our future is at stake at that level,” he said.
Gupta’s decision to leave the state Bureau of Public Health is another blow to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, which has struggled to keep someone in the position to lead the Office of Drug Control Policy, created to help the state fight the opioid crisis.
State DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch told a group of state lawmakers Monday a reorganization would be announced soon.
“We are looking to make an announcement within the next 30 days in terms of how that program will work and some changes in that program,” Crouch said.
Gupta said the state is on the right track in its battle against the opioid impact.
“I feel good about the direction we’re set in. I do feel good about all of the coordination that has happened and it will get us where we need to be,” he said. “We are turning the corner of this crisis.”
Gupta said Gov. Jim Justice should be credited for several key pieces of legislation that state lawmakers passed earlier this year.
Del. Amy Summers, R-Taylor, is hopeful Gupta’s role will be filled soon.
“On the health committee we deal with such big issues for our state that need addressed and we can’t have much of a lapse in leadership in that position,” Summers said Tuesday.
Gupta said he’ll be on the job in West Virginia through Nov. 4. He’ll begin his new job the next day.
“There will be no big vacations, that’s the kind of person I am. Leave one place and start the next place,” he said.
He said he’ll miss West Virginia.
“I will be lifelong indebted to the people for giving me the opportunity to get this valuable experience. There are some great communities across West Virginia, some fantastic people. Forever it will maintain a special place in my heart and in my family’s heart,” he said.