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Hellerstedt to Lead Texas Public Health Agency

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Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman
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The Texas Tribune

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Dr. John Hellerstedt will be the next commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, state officials announced Monday.

Hellerstedt is the current chief medical officer of the Seton Family of Hospitals in Central Texas. He is a former medical director for the Medicaid CHIP Division at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, according to his online bio.

"I am very excited about this next chapter in my life, and I’m eager to return to public service where I can help keep Texans healthy and safe," Hellerstedt said in a news release. His first day at the agency will be Jan. 1.

A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh medical school, Hellerstedt moved to Austin in 1981 after completing his residency at the University of Texas-San Antonio Health Science Center.

He’ll replace Kirk Cole, the interim director of DSHS, who took the helm of the public health agency in February, after former commissioner David Lakey took a post at the University of Texas System. Lakey had served as commissioner since 2007.

Hellerstedt takes over the Department of State Health Services at a time when the agency’s future is unclear. State lawmakers this year considered merging the public health agency with the state’s massive Health and Human Services Commission. Ultimately, legislators punted on that decision, vowing to reconsider it in 2017.

The Department of State Health Services, with more than 12,000 employees, is responsible for public health and behavioral health services in the state. The agency’s infectious disease control division has dealt with several high-profile incidents recently, including a breakout of the deadly bacteria Listeria monocytogenes at a Blue Bell ice cream factory in Brenham, and last year’s breakout of the Ebola virus at a hospital in Dallas. The department also oversees Texas’ state hospitals for the mentally ill.

Disclosure: The Seton Healthcare Family has been a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/11/09/hellerstedt-lead-texas-public-health-agency/.