Note From The Commissioner: My New Role
Friday Sep 14th, 2018
Nearly four years ago, I was given the profound honor and privilege of serving as the Baltimore City Health Commissioner. Every day since then, under the leadership of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and then Mayor Catherine Pugh, I’ve served alongside the most dedicated public servants I’ve ever known, joined in a common mission to combat disparities and improve health and well-being in Baltimore. I have often said that I have my dream job. It has been a dream come true to work with all of you. Together, we have accomplished so much: we’ve saved nearly 3,000 lives from opioid overdose; reduced infant mortality to record lows; provided glasses for all children who need them; treated violence and racism as public health crises; and convened all sectors to improve community well-being.
Today, I am writing to let you know that I will be resigning from my role. My last day as Health Commissioner will be a month from today: Friday, October 12th. I will be succeeding Cecile Richards as the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I’ll be the first physician to serve as President of Planned Parenthood in nearly 50 years.
I did not expect, nor did I plan, to leave my role here. At the Baltimore City Health Department, we often speak about our core principles of public health. One of them is to go where there is the greatest need. At this time in our nation’s history, there is one need that rises above all: the need to protect women’s health and the health of the most vulnerable communities. Planned Parenthood has done more for women’s health than any other organization. Yet, it is under daily assault from all three branches of government, and the consequence is the loss of hundreds of safety-net clinics around the country, the degradation of women’s rights, the distortion of the medical profession, and the cost of women’s lives.
I understand that I am signing up for a huge challenge. Those who attack the work of Planned Parenthood may turn their criticisms to me, my family, and even our Health Department team and partners. But another core value that we share is that we have to do the things that are hard. I think about the women who face fear and stigma when they are trying to access legal, evidence-based medical care in their time of greatest need. I think about what it means for human rights when women are deprived of something as basic as their bodily autonomy. Whatever hardships we may have to face seem minor in comparison. Indeed, it is a privilege to choose to do these hard things.
Senator Barbara Mikulski likes to say that we should “do what we’re best at, and what we’re needed for.” Providing healthcare and fighting to protect that access to care—that’s what I have been doing my entire life. I am so proud to do this at the Baltimore City Health Department, and soon, at Planned Parenthood: to lead the fight for healthcare access, for gender equality, and for our core values in support of women, children, families, and vulnerable communities. The cost of taking on this fight is leaving a job I love and colleagues I admire and draw inspiration from every day. But at this critical juncture in our nation’s history, it is my obligation to take on this challenge and fight with everything I have.
Mayor Pugh has been informed and has accepted my resignation. I wish to thank her for her leadership. She will be designating an Interim Health Commissioner before my departure on October 12th, and will also be announcing a national search for my successor. In the meantime, the day-to-day operations at the Health Department will go on, as they always do, in service of our residents.
I look forward to speaking with you all very soon and to saying thank you and goodbye in person. Though I am not going far: Baltimore will remain home for me, my husband Sebastian, and our son Eli. For now, thank you for your support, your friendship, and your partnership in improving health and well-being in Baltimore.
Leana Wen, M.D., M.Sc.