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New Allegheny County Health Department director announced

A new Allegheny County Health Department director was introduced Wednesday -- Dr. Debra Bogen from Pittsburgh.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the Board of Health made the announcement after a seven-month national search.

“I am thrilled to announce Dr. Debra Bogen as the new Health Department Director,” said Fitzgerald. “We have many challenges ahead of us, but her focus on health equity and addressing those health issues where rates are racially disparate will allow us to continue moving towards a county that works for all. Just as importantly, she is energized and excited to jump into this position and serve our community. We are delighted to have her.”

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Bogen has held several positions at UPMC Children’s Hospital for the past 20 years, including vice chair for education in the Department of Pediatrics. She earned her medical degree from Colorado School of Medicine and completed her postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins University.

She is also a professor of pediatrics, with secondary appointments in Psychiatry and in Clinical and Translational Science. And she is one of the founders of the Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank and has been an advocate for issues of maternal and child health.

“During Dr. Bogen’s decades of work in Pittsburgh, she has formed excellent partnerships, including with the Health Department and Human Services,” said Dr. Edie Shapira, who co-chaired the search committee. “These relationships will serve her and the county well as we work with our partners to make strides in improving public health. She is strong, brave, strategic, and delightful and is a welcomed addition to the department.”

Bogen is expected to begin her position as director on May 4.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner issued the following statement following the announcement:

“While having in place a new Allegheny County Health Department director is certainly desirable given the critical challenges—globally and locally—that we face in the arena of public health, the more than nine-month period since Dr. Karen Hacker’s resignation announcement should have included robust public input and involvement and, ultimately, a public vetting of candidates under consideration. Instead, residents including health and environmental advocates had no indication where this process stood or that this announcement was imminent.

“It is important to remember that the recent, incremental improvements in Health Department enforcement of air quality regulations only followed scrutiny from my office through its performance audits and subsequent demands from the community. Similarly, the Department denied responsibility and failed to take meaningful action on Pittsburgh’s lead water crisis, and presented inaccurate blood lead testing data to the public. Accountability is what makes government work, and the public should have every confidence that these unfortunate episodes will not be repeated.

“A critical personnel decision affecting every resident of Allegheny County—especially the most vulnerable—should not have been made behind closed doors. Neither our elected representatives on County Council nor local public health advocates have vetted this appointment. Even the degree of involvement of the Board of Health, which is the direct authority over the Health Department, is unclear. Indeed, the Board of Health structure exists to ensure a qualified, independent department free from political interference. Today’s sudden announcement calls into serious question whether this is what we have.

“While I welcome Dr. Bogen and offer the full cooperation of my office in examining and improving Department functions, this secretive process has placed a great and undue burden on her to show the community she is best-equipped to meet the unique needs of Allegheny County.”