Tags: MidPoint | Surgeon General | Ebola | Murthy

Richard Carmona: US Needs 'Appropriately Vetted' Surgeon General

By    |   Friday, 10 October 2014 03:34 PM

A former U.S. surgeon general says the absence of anyone at that bully pulpit today, in the midst of the  Ebola crisis, is the fault of a White House selection process that turned the post into a political football.

Richard Carmona, surgeon general in 2002-2006, did not mention President Barack Obama's stalled nominee, Vivek Murthy, by name, but implicitly criticized the young and outspoken Boston doctor on Newsmax TV Friday as the wrong person for the job.

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Murthy, 36, is facing bipartisan Senate opposition spearheaded by the National Rifle Association for calling gun violence a national health crisis.

Carmona told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner that a better pick would be "an appropriately vetted, experienced and mature surgeon general who has come up through the ranks, who has had experience over decades with dealing with complex public health issues and has the background and experience."

"It should not be a patronage position," said Carmona.

With Ebola having reached the United States, and observers wondering why the post of "America's doctor" has gone vacant since July 2013, some medical professionals question whether a surgeon general would have impacted the initial U.S. response to Ebola.

"Maybe if it was an Everett Koop," Lawrence O. Gostin, a World Health Organization member and Georgetown University health law professor, told "MidPoint" on Thursday, referencing the doctor who served very visibly as President Ronald Reagan's surgeon general.

"But the surgeon general's powers have been stripped for many years now for political reasons," said Gostin. "And that's also very regrettable."

Carmona argued that "we desperately do need a surgeon general" and said that Obama already has a great public health advocate to call on — his acting surgeon general, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.

Carmona said that Lushniak embodies great surgeon general attributes: a gifted physician and respected military medical professional with first-rate public health credentials, and a "non-partisan professional who can communicate with the American public because of their authority, [and] authenticity."

"These are people who have earned the right to be considered as surgeon general, and have earned the right to have the rank of admiral," said Carmona. "You can't just take people off the street, make them admirals and expect them to be seen as credible people in Washington or any place else."

Lushniak has been all but invisible, however, since this year's Ebola outbreak threatened to spread beyond Africa.

"Unfortunately, for whatever the reasons, he was not nominated," said Carmona.

Carmona, now a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, praised the stepped-up passenger screening measures coming to U.S. airports that handle travel from West Africa.

"The people at the airports have been trained," he said. "They're being supervised by public health officials, both locally and from the U.S. Public Health Service, that oversee this."

Carmona said that the screeners don't have to be medical professionals, just trained people asking the right questions.

"If those questions are answered in the affirmative — were you in Africa or were you in West Africa? Were you in contact with anybody who had Ebola? — that person is moved out," he said. "They get a further screening. They get a medical review by health professionals, and a decision is made whether or not they need to be isolated."

Carmona called the airport screening "one segment of a multi-layered protection plan that we have in public health."

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A former U.S. surgeon general says the absence of anyone at that bully pulpit today, in the midst of the Ebola crisis, is the fault of a White House selection process that turned the post into a political football.
Surgeon General, Ebola, Murthy
Friday, 10 October 2014 03:34 PM
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