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FOR RELEASE: March 8, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

State Board of Health Announces New Commissioner of Health

State Board of Health President Jay Gregory, M.D., announced today that Leslie Beitsch, M.D., J.D., has agreed to become the next Commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The agreement is contingent on approval of contract terms and appointment by the State Board of Health. The proposed tentative agreement includes a salary of $180,000 per year plus basic state benefits. Dr. Gregory said if the Board agrees to the appointment, Dr. Beitsch will begin his new duties approximately June 1.

Dr. Beitsch has served as Assistant State Health Officer for the Florida Department of Health for the past decade. In that role he has been responsible for the oversight of local county health department operations protecting the health of over 15 million residents. He has directed a broad spectrum of programs, including personal health services, disease control, and environmental health regulatory activities and health promotion. Dr. Beitsch is especially noted for his focus on development of community-based partnerships and collaborations. He has substantial experience working with elected officials to achieve public health agendas and budgetary goals.

Dr. Gregory said Dr. Beitsch has used community partnership methods in Florida to increase prenatal care and reduce infant mortality. According to United Health Group's State Health Report for 2000, Florida's national ranking for adequacy of prenatal care improved from 42nd to 15th from 1990 through 2000. During the same period, Florida's national ranking for infant mortality improved from 37th to 24th. Florida has also achieved remarkable decreases in prevalence of smoking since 1990. The state moved from 37th nationally in 1990 to 9th in 2000. Smoking is a leading indicator in underweight and premature births.

"Dr. Beitsch has a proven track record of achievement in improving public health awareness, partnerships and most importantly, health indicators in the population. He believes we need a clear vision for public health improvement with logical steps and evidence-based practice. He understands the importance of developing community leaders for the improvement of the public's health. He has the right combination of experience, education and personal ethics to move the agency forward," Dr. Gregory said.

Dr. Beitsch possesses a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School and an M.D. from Georgetown University School of Medicine. He also serves on several national advisory committees related to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The Board of Health's announcement concludes an extensive nine-month search committee process chaired by Gordon Deckert, M.D. The committee involved broad representation from various health-related associations, consumer advocacy groups, elected officials and several agency directors.

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