County picks new Health Department Director

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald today announced the selection of Dr. Karen A. Hacker as the new director of the Allegheny Health Department.

Hacker is currently the senior medical director for public and community health for the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass. She is also the Chief Medical Officer at the Cambridge Public Health Department and Executive Director of the Institute for Community Health. She holds degrees from Northwestern University School of Medicine and Boston University School of Medical Health.

She will take her post with Allegheny County in September with a salary of $195,000. The Heinz Endowments will pay $50,000 of that amount.

Hacker was chosen unanimously by a search committee co-chaired by Dr. Edie Shapira, a member of the county Board of Health, and Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation.

Hacker's background "reflects a strong community-based focus on health issues," Fitzgerald said "which is something we were very much looking for."

"We think Dr. Hacker is going to do a fantastic job leading the department into a new generation," he said.

The former health department director, Bruce Dixon, was fired by the Board of Health in March 2012 at the behest of Fitzgerald. Dr. Ron Voorhees has been leading the department in the interim. Fitzgerald said Voorhees had been under consideration for the post but withdrew his candidacy. He remains on the staff.

Search committee members and Fitzgerald praised Hacker's academic and medical credentials, and her background in community and public health. "I can see her walking the streets of our communities and interacting" with the people, said Peg McCormick Barron, a member of the search team. "That will bode well for the Department of Health and the community."

Facing less-than-grueling inquiries from reporters -- who seemed most interested in who she'd be rooting for in the Stanley Cup playoffs -- Hacker said her priorities are to get to know the Department and its staff then "set a realistic agenda." (She also confessed she'd be rooting for the Bruins.)

Hacker says she plans to engage the community to develop policies, while addressing air and water quality, gun violence, infant mortality and barriers to healthcare, among others.

"We've got to revitalize the health department and lead it into the future," she said.

The Board of Health still has to vote on the move, and the county will also have to submit her hiring to the state Board of Health. The county Board of Health next meets at 12:30 p.m. Wed., July 10, in the first floor Conference Room, Building 7, Clack Health Center, 39th Street and Penn Avenue, Lawrenceville.

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