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Ohio Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing On ODH Director Nominee

Ohio Public Radio

An Ohio Senate Committee yesterday approved Governor John Kasich's nominee for state health director, paving the way for a floor-vote. Critics say Rick Hodges should not get the job because he is not a doctor. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

Rick Hodges is a Republican former state lawmaker and the former head of the Ohio Turnpike Commission.  But he’s not a doctor.  For the last 16 years, directors of the Ohio Department of Health have been doctors.  But Hodges told Ohio Senators during his committee hearing that a medical degree is not necessary to do the job.
Hodges “I am an experienced chief executive officer with a highly trained medical team. This new structure allows me to lead the operational complexities of a state agency and direct health and strategic priorities while allowing medical staff to focus their attention on clinical issues.”
Indeed, the structure of leadership at the Ohio Department of Health has changed with this new appointment.  The state’s former epidemiologist, Dr. Mary DiOrio, has been appointed by Governor Kasich to serve in a newly created position as the state’s medical director.  But she will serve under Hodges.  And Doctor Alison Norris at Ohio State University’s College of Public Health says that’s a problem because Hodges, not DiOrio, is the one who is charged with calling the shots for health issues that the state deals with such as health effects of air quality, water quality, and viral outbreaks….. problems Norris says are best understood by experienced doctors.
Norris - “There are multi-dimensional problems and they are complicated.  And people who have training in medicine and science are prepared to understand the data that is coming in and the kinds of policy and practice that needs to be put in place.”
The concern that someone without a medical degree has been tapped to head the health department is echoed by Jaime Miracle with the NARAL Pro Choice Ohio.  Opponents such as Miracle didn’t get an opportunity to speak at the confirmation hearing.  But afterwards, she points out the Ohio legislature has put the health director in charge of determining whether abortion clinics have proper transfer agreements with hospitals and therefore can stay in business.  Since that law has been put in place, two abortion clinics have shut down because of it, three others chose to close and others are at risk of closing. Miracle suspects Hodges was chosen to advance an ideology on that issue.
Miracle - “The question that still hasn’t been answered is did Kasich appoint Mr. Hodges for this job because he couldn’t find a medical professional to carry out this witch hunt of abortion providers? And yes, he can surround himself by whoever he wants to but when it comes down to making the decision, it is his decision to make.  It is his decision.  It is his signature.”
It might not come as a surprise but the head of Ohio Right to Life, Stephanie Krider, disagrees with Miracle.  
Krider – Being pro life doesn’t disqualify anyone from holding a public office.  And if they are unhappy with the direction of things, the legislature is responsible for having passed these laws.  The Governor enacted them by signing them.  If their concern is with transfer agreements and those laws, then they should work to change the laws.  We just had an election and they lost.
NARAL Pro Choice Ohio is fighting those laws - a lawsuit was filed earlier this week to keep some Ohio clinics open.  One fight that’s now over is whether Hodges will get approval from the senate committee that is considering his appointment.  The committee approved it by a margin of 8 to 1.  


Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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