AMA trustee tapped for Virginia health leadership
■ If confirmed, William A. Hazel Jr., MD, will lead 13 offices and agencies in Virginia during a financially difficult time for the state.
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A historic budget deficit in Virginia was not enough to keep orthopedic surgeon William A. Hazel Jr., MD, from accepting a Jan. 15 nomination to be the state's secretary of Health and Human Resources.
The opportunity to shape public health policy was too tempting to turn down, according to Dr. Hazel, who has deep roots in Virginia and an array of leadership experience. He's been a member of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees since 2004, is a past president of the Medical Society of Virginia and has been medical staff president of Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Va.
Now Dr. Hazel has been tapped to lead 13 agencies and offices responsible for the state's Medicaid program, family assistance and public health, among other areas. The Virginia Senate still must confirm Dr. Hazel's appointment before it is official.
"The first goal is to survive my first general assembly session, which is a big job," said Dr. Hazel, chosen as one of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's 15 cabinet members. He recently reviewed about 230 proposed bills and issued recommendations on them to McDonnell's staff.
"This is a challenge, but I look forward to the challenge," Dr. Hazel said.
The state budget will be a major point of debate. Virginia faces a $4.2 billion shortfall by 2012, according to the Dept. of Planning and Budget. The health secretary oversees agencies that account for about 25% of general fund spending in the commonwealth, Dr. Hazel said. "Clearly, no area of the budget will go unaffected."
Dr. Hazel also was attracted to the job because of its potential to bring change to the health system. He would like to see more debate about the concept of personal responsibility in health care, as well as how health services are organized and delivered.
Dr. Hazel has been an orthopedic surgeon in private practice in Virginia since 1988. He co-founded Commonwealth Orthopaedics in Herndon. He would like to keep practicing medicine but notes that being secretary "is a full-time job. This is what I'm committed to do."
McDonnell lauded Dr. Hazel as a successful physician and businessman. "As a young doctor, he saw a need for medical services in his community and helped grow a solo private practice into an organization that today has 41 physicians, 11 locations, two surgery centers and seven physical therapy clinics," the governor said in a Jan. 15 release.
McDonnell said Dr. Hazel also was the sentimental choice. "My favorite fact about Dr. Hazel is he used to be a team physician for a football team very close to my family's hearts, the Washington Redskins."
AMA board Chair Rebecca J. Patchin, MD, also praised the nominee, who will give up his position on the board.
"While the AMA is saddened to lose Dr. Hazel's perspective and leadership, we are excited for him and the tremendous opportunity in front of him," Dr. Patchin said. "It's a big job, but we know Bill is up to the task and that the citizens of Virginia will be the beneficiaries."
Dr. Hazel is a man who can be counted on, said Daniel Carey, MD, president of the Medical Society of Virginia and a cardiologist in Lynchburg. "He has become a student of leadership and management in the health care arena."
If anyone can find a criticism of Dr. Hazel, it's that he spreads himself a little thin now and then, said Dean R. Bennett, MD, but he's always made patient care a priority. Dr. Bennett founded Commonwealth Orthopaedics with Dr. Hazel; the two are close friends. Dr. Bennett said Dr. Hazel's lengthy experience in administrative and executive work indicate he'll do a good job as secretary.
One of Dr. Hazel's predecessors in the post advised putting solid people in every agency. "You can't know in depth every one of the 13 offices and agencies, so hire to your weaknesses," said Jane Woods, Virginia's health secretary from 2002-2006.
Dr. Hazel, whose father owns a prominent construction firm in Virginia, initially considered following in his dad's footsteps. He earned an undergraduate degree in civil engineering. But after an operation to remove a cyst from his knee, his surgeon suggested he consider medicine, and that led him in a new direction, Dr. Hazel said.