Arkansas’ top health officer is leaving the state for a new national role.
Dr. Nathaniel Smith, who serves in Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration as the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) secretary, will be leaving his state position to take a post at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Smith will remain in his current role through August 28. He will be taking the role of deputy director for the CDC’s Public Health Service and Implementation Science.
Smith has served as the Arkansas Department of Health’s director and as the State Health Officer since 2013. He has served in multiple roles at the Department of Health, including as the branch chief for infectious disease, state epidemiologist and as the deputy director for public health programs for the Arkansas He joined ADH in 2004 as the medical director of the infectious disease program.
During a May 26 press conference, Smith stated that he was encouraged to apply for the CDC role after Rear Admiral Stephen Redd retired in February 2020. Smith said that there had been no issues in the COVID-19 approach that led to his decision to leave.
“There is absolutely no disagreement with the approach that we’ve been taking here. Working with the governor is one of the highlights of my career. It made it very difficult to make this decision,” Smith said.
Smith has become a familiar face for many in the state over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has joined Hutchinson on a daily basis for press briefings at the State Capitol, providing updates on coronavirus cases and discussing public health policy. When Hutchinson was gone to Washington, D.C. to meet President Donald Trump, Smith held the press conference by himself.
According to Hutchinson, he had known about Smith’s planned departure for “some time.” With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith remained at the Department of Health to oversee its strategy and operations.
“He has stayed at the helm to work through this crisis here with us. He will continue working in his current position through August 28. We wanted to allow a significant amount of time for a transition [and] for him to continue to work with the existing team and the new team at the Department of Health,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson has named Dr. Jose Romero as the interim Secretary of Health. Romero is the section chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.