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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LPR

Louisiana now has its own surgeon general. Here's who Jeff Landry tapped for the job.

Louisiana now has its own surgeon general, and Ralph Abraham, a medical doctor who since January has led the Louisiana Department of Health as secretary, will fill that role.

Gov. Landry on Tuesday announced that he has signed legislation creating a brand-new Office of the Surgeon General within the Louisiana Department of Health, the state’s largest agency.

“Especially after we saw all of the chaos that erupted throughout the pandemic, having a physician in charge and working alongside of a secretary of the LDH, who is kind of like a CEO … I think strengthens our health care system,” said Landry, who previously appointed Abraham as department secretary when he took office in January.

The surgeon general will take on the responsibilities previously assigned to the state health officer.

“We’re putting aside anything that’s in the way of that patient-doctor relationship and anything that’s hindering us from moving out of that 49th and 50th place (in national health rankings),” Abraham told a small audience of reporters and healthcare executives, providers and policymakers on Tuesday.

Louisiana for a second year in a row ranked as the least healthy state in the country, according to the America’s Health Rankings report put out by United Health Foundation at the end of last year.

The surgeon general will serve as the health department’s “chief medical officer” and “leading advocate for wellness and disease prevention,” according to the legislation, House Bill 853, signed into law as Act 739 of the 2024 Legislative Session.

He will also be in charge of the state’s response to any public health emergency.

In addition, the new law says the surgeon general will “provide clinical and medical guidance and recommendations to improve health outcomes for all residents” and “collect, manage, and analyze health data and statistics to formulate public health policy and planning.”

“The surgeon general is co-equal with the secretary within the department’s organizational chart and is charged with crafting health policy, including healthcare workforce development, advocating for wellness and disease prevention, and coordinating with other state agencies and institutions to improve health outcomes in Louisiana,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. 

Michael Harrington, the department’s undersecretary, will now step into top secretary role. Drew Maranto was named undersecretary.

Landry on Tuesday said that having a doctor oversee Louisiana’s health policy and “a talented health care executive” oversee the department was an early priority of his administration.

His transition team recommended the changes as way to “modernize” the health department and state policy, Landry said.

Landry’s creation of the new state office is similar to a move he made in 2016 as Louisiana’s attorney general: He created a state-level solicitor general position, to which he named Liz Murrill, who is now Louisiana’s attorney general.

Louisiana joins just a handful of other states that have their own surgeon general, including Florida, Arkansas, Texas and California.

“I’ve seen how important public health policy is, and more importantly when you don’t have it, I’ve seen the ravages of poor health care across the globe,” Abraham said. “We don’t want that here in Louisiana.”

The new surgeon general, a practicing physician and three-term U.S. representative, said he’s traveled extensively all over the world, including to Iraq, Syria, Burma and South Africa.

Maternal and infant mortality and morbidity and mental health are priorities for the state’s top doctor.

“We know that so many people are suffering silently, and we need to be the voice of the voiceless who are suffering from those mental health issues,” he said.

“The governor knows, I know, that mental health and crime are often tied together at the waist,” Abraham added. “And if we can intervene early and help that mental health patient before they commit the crime, we’ve helped the patient, we’ve helped the economy, and we’ve helped the community.”

Abraham, 69, earned his medical degree from LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport in 1994, and became a doctor at age 40. Before that, Abraham was a veterinarian for a decade. He graduated from LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in 1980.

Abraham also served in the Army National Guard and was a member of Congress from 2015 to 2020. In 2019, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor and lost to incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

During that campaign, he came under fire for his practices prescribing opioids. He has pushed back on those criticisms.

Abraham is anti-abortion. He was rapped by the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics last year for noting in 2020 that abortions often have a fatal outcome for women. 



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