Top Health Officer Leaving West Virginia DHHR
CHARLESTON — Dr. Rahul Gupta, who headed the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and supervised the Office of Drug Control Policy, is the next high-profile Justice Administration official leaving.
However, Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday afternoon he was able to fill one of those high-ranking positions when he named John Myers as director of the West Virginia Lottery.
Myers has been secretary of administration for the Justice Administration. Prior to that, he worked at the lottery from 2008-2017 and was acting director from 2015-2017.
Myers, in the private sector, was the manager of corporate administration for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Buffalo, West Virginia.
Gupta will join the nonprofit March of Dimes as its senior vice president and chief medical and health officer.
“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 in a press release issued Tuesday.
“Dr. Gupta’s leadership skills, accomplishments, vision and passion for prevention will be crucial to meeting March of Dimes goals to give every mom and baby the best chance for a healthy start,” said Stacey D. Stewart, president of March of Dimes. “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.”
First appointed in 2015 as chief health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Gupta is a specialist in internal medicine and preventive medicine. He was the executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department starting in 2009.
Gupta replaced Dr. Letitia E. Tierney, who resigned Dec. 31, 2014.
Gupta had been on the front lines of the state’s opioid response planning. When the Legislature passed a law creating the Office of Drug Control Policy in 2017, it was placed under the direction of the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources and the supervision of the Bureau of Public Health.
ODCP is legislatively mandated to develop policies and plans to curb the state’s growing drug abuse problem and be a clearinghouse for statistics on drug and alcohol abuse. The office missed a mandate of July 1 to submit a strategic plan to reduce drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse by 10 percent and another plan to increase the number of beds for treatment.
DHHR has had trouble finding a permanent director for ODCP, which is being managed in the interim by Nancy Sullivan, a special assistant to DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch. Jim Johnson, the former director of the city of Huntington’s Office of Drug Control Policy, was the office’s first director from September 2017 to January 2018. Dr. Michael Brumage, the former executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department after Gupta, only lasted from Feb. 5 to March 23. Another interim director, Susie Mullens, left to take a job in Preston County.
Gupta’s deputy commissioner for health improvement, Anne Williams, was granted an exemption from the state Ethics Commission to look for other employment after 27 years with DHHR and five years with the Bureau of Public Health. Williams, who was the point of contact for applications when the agency set out to hire the first ODCP director, was named along with Gupta and Johnson on the bureau’s 2016 overdose fatality analysis report released in 2017.
Gupta’s departure makes the third state agency with employee shake-ups.
The governor’s office announced Aug. 31 that Alan Larrick, former director of the lottery, had resigned. Officials with the Department of Revenue, which oversee the lottery, also confirmed Monday they were investigating Danielle Boyd, the lottery’s general counsel.
The governor’s office also is having problems finding a new Department of Commerce secretary. Former secretary Woody Thrasher resigned in June after the department mishandled a flood recovery program and a program that imbedded business leaders in the state Development Office.
Lawmakers have cited the absences of acting Secretary of Commerce Clayton Burch from legislative interim meetings this week.
The Commerce Department also is without key administrative staff: Kris Hopkins, executive director of the Development Office; Josh Jarrell, deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce and chief legal counsel; Mary Jo Thompson, director of community development in the Department of Commerce; and Russell Tarry, director of the West Virginia Office of Economic Opportunity.