June 6, 2009

Frieden Preparing To Take Role Of New CDC Chief

Dr. Thomas Frieden - best known for taking action to ban smoking in New York's workplaces - is preparing to take his appointed position as the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday.

Frieden, who is credited with reducing the city's number of smokers by 350,000, will be traveling to Atlanta on Sunday where he will begin preparations for his new post.

But analysts say Frieden's bullish approach that worked so well in New York City will not be as effective on the national stage.

"He can't walk across the hall and find a sympathetic mayor and get stuff through. It's a different playing field," Dr. Jeff Koplan, a former CDC director, told the Associated Press.

Unlike his job in New York City, Frieden will be forced to make partnerships with other national agencies in order to pull off effective initiatives.

"It's really very different," Frieden told the AP, which reported that he listed smoking as the nation's No. 1 health issue. However, in carefully worded responses, he did not reveal plans for any new campaigns, saying his initial goal is to work with CDC staff to build future plans.

Frieden is used to heading large agencies. In his previous job with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, he oversaw a local health agency with an annual budget of $1.7 billion and a 6,000-member staff.

But compared to the $10.1 billion budget of the CDC and its sister unit, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Frieden's job in New York may not seem so large.

He will face new problems, including the federal response to threats of pandemics, the swine flu, SARS and food poisoning.

Despite all this, Frieden is not in completely new territory. Before taking his position in New York City, he worked for the CDC beginning in 1990.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said President Obama "could not have selected a better person" to takeover control at the CDC.

"Dr. Frieden has demonstrated his talent and leadership over the past seven years, and we look forward to working with him in his new role in Atlanta," Bloomberg said in a statement.

"I would argue that one of the reasons he was chosen was that he was able to make the case of how public health can play a vital role in a reformed health care system," Jeff Levi, who heads Trust for America's Health, a research group, told the AP.

"It's that kind of vision that probably was most attractive to the administration."


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