With the declaration of a Public Health Emergency from the recent outbreak of Swine Flu, the nation’s eyes will be turning towards the White House, Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and others to examine how they perform under pressure. One of the people to keep your eyes on is Dr. Richard Besser, the Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control. (FYI – Dr. Besser appeared at yesterday’s White House Press Conference with Robert Gibbs, the President’s Press Secretary, DHS Sec. Napolitano and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.)
For the majority of Americans this was their first exposure to Dr. Besser. I had the fortune of meeting him in 2006 as part of Harvard sponsored program, the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) which assembled leaders from across the country from the federal, state, local and tribal governments to educate them about the various leadership skills necessary to succeed in some of the most pressure filled environments.
In spending time with him in that program, you got the feeling that if we ever had a really bad day in this country, he’s was a guy you wanted to have around. I could say that about many of the people who were part of the NPLI Program that I was fortunate to study with, but in the field of public health, you want to have an individual who can deliver the facts in terms that are understandable to all; convey strong measures of confidence (not the usual medical arrogance) while relaying a sense of proactive calm that the bet people are working on the situation whatever it is and will make whatever they can available to you and your family.
Dr. Besser has all of those qualities and more.
While I was driving in this morning I heard the WTOP News guys ask one of their reporters whether the fact that the new Administration does not have an HHS Secretary (and other senior USG Health positions) in office right now as it impeding the response to the Swine Flu outbreak.
After uttering a word my mother and wife would chew me out for saying out loud in the car or any other place, I couldn’t help but think that these folks and for that matter the rest of the country don’t know people like Dr. Besser and the many like him at the CDC, HHS, DHS and elsewhere that are working triple overtime to tackle this situation.
While I am concerned about the outbreak, I have the comfort of getting to know and study with one of our country’s most impressive leaders. Knowing he’s on the job tells me one of the country’s best doctors and leaders is going to make it right. He will be straightforward; he won’t play games and he will not stop until the situation is addressed completely.
He’s a leader to watch and the Administration and nation is very fortunate to have him on call.