The woman who needs no introduction will be stepping down from her role as New Jersey’s health commissioner.
Judy Persichilli, one of the leading architects in the Murphy Administration response to the coronavirus pandemic, will leave the department she has headed since June 2019 with Gov. Phil Murphy nominating Dr. Kaitlan Baston to replace her.
Dr. Baston, with a background in addiction, is slated to head up the department beginning this month.
“I am thrilled to nominate Dr. Kaitlan Baston as our next Commissioner of the Department of Health,” said Murphy in a press statement. “(Her) breadth of experience as a physician, highlighted by her many leadership roles within the addiction and health care space, will make her an exceptional Commissioner at the Department of Health.”
Among Dr. Baston’s accomplishments cited by Murphy, she was the first division head of Addiction Medicine and Medical Director of the Center for Healing at Cooper University Health Care, a founder for the center which integrates pain, addiction, and behavioral health care.
Focus on Addiction
Dr. Baston is an educator and consultant for Zero to Three, an organization focused on ensuring all babies and toddlers have a strong start to life, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.
She has also served on numerous national boards and committees, including the National Symposium for Addiction Medicine at the White House, Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, the Camden County Opioid Settlement Funds board, and the Advanced Practitioner Executive Committee.
“I am deeply grateful to Gov. Murphy for entrusting me with this opportunity to serve the people of New Jersey,” said Baston. “I have spent my career focused on addiction services, maternal and child health, and improving equity through health care in the community. I am fully committed to using those experiences to create a healthy, equitable state for all.”
Persichilli offered that her successor “is eminently qualified to carry on the Department’s critical work in tackling New Jersey’s public health crises and fulfilling its mission.”
The outgoing commissioner publicly thanked the Murphy for having the confidence in appointing her to lead the department through a myriad of health challenges within the state.
“Working alongside Gov. Murphy, whose values mirrored mine in a state I call home, and alongside the dedicated career experts in public health at the department has been a privilege these past four years,” said Persichilli, who Murphy at COVID-19 press conferences would introduce his health commissioner as “the women who needs no introduction.”
“These past few years have also taught us many lessons, perhaps most importantly to pivot and change as we move forward,” added Persichilli. “The department is more prepared now than ever to face tomorrow’s challenges with a foundation built on resiliency, data-driven decision-making, and equity for New Jersey’s residents.”
A nurse and former hospital executive, Persichilli has been a lightning rod for the policies mandated by the Murphy Administration during those crucial days following the spread of the deadly virus.
Persichilli in many ways became the official face of the pandemic during the pandemic the media briefings held by Murphy. She became an ever-present figure, giving out details on the spread of the virus, reminding residents to wear face masks, and avoid crowds.
Nursing Home Controversy
Critics of the administration point out that under Persichilli’s directive nursing homes were forced to take back elderly COVID positive patients back from hospitals, resulting in the deadly spread of the virus among the most vulnerable within our society. Over 10,000 nursing home residents in New Jersey died during the pandemic.
With two consultants hired by the administration last year are conducting an independent review of the administration’s response to the pandemic, Persichilli’s continued to defend the decision to return patients to nursing homes just this past weekend.
“No it was not a mistake, it was their home,” said Persichilli on News12 New Jersey last weekend. “It was similar to any other person being discharged from overburdened hospitals. They were treated, they were taken are of, their most symptomatic aspects of that virus were fine…and they had to go back home.”
Accolades for Persichilli
“Judy’s unwavering dedication to public service during one of the most challenging times in our nation’s history will be remembered with sincere appreciation and gratitude,” Murphy tweeted after the news broke. “Grateful for her tireless efforts to advance the health and well-being of New Jerseyans.”
North Jersey hospital leaders praised Persichilli, including Deborah Visconi, CEO of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center.
“She led the Department of Health during one of the most challenging times the health care community has ever faced with true dedication to the health and wellness of every resident,” said Visconi.