Hodges qualifications to lead health department questioned

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog mkovac@dixcom.com Published:

COLUMBUS -- The minority leader of the Ohio Senate has asked for hearings on Gov. John Kasich's selection to lead the state health department, questioning whether the former lawmaker appointed to the post is qualified.

Rick Hodges, a former state lawmaker representing a Fulton County-area district and head of the Ohio Turnpike, was chosen by the governor to take the place of Ted Wymyslo, who resigned in February to return to private practice.

Kasich also named Mary Applegate, a medical director in the state's Medicaid Department, to serve as interim medical director.

Both began their new positions this week.

But Hodges' selection prompted criticism from Statehouse Democrats, his gubernatorial opponent Ed FitzGerald and liberal groups, who say state law requires the health director to be a medical doctor or have significant experience in public health.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, voiced his concern in a letter Tuesday to Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, and Sen. Shanon Jones, R-Springboro, noting, "Despite Mr. Hodges' history of public service and administrative work, his lack of a medical background or public health experience renders him unqualified for the position."

Schiavoni wants hearings "promptly scheduled" on Hodges' appointment to address such concerns.

"Although the clinical staff at the department and those recently appointed are eminently qualified, the director is ultimately responsible for the actions of the department," Schiavoni wrote. "Given this, it is imperative that full and open hearings be held to determine what if any qualifications Mr. Hodges possesses which warrant his selection for this position."

According to a resume provided by the governor's office, Hodges served as director of planning and marketing for the Fulton County Health Center from 1998-2000 and director of Community Hospitals of Williams County from 1994-98, among other management positions.

The Ohio Hospital Association, the Ohio Association of Health Centers and the Ohio State Medical Association have all endorsed Hodges' appointment.

"It is vitally important to OSMA members that those in leadership at the Ohio Department of Health are well versed in understanding the wave of changes in health care today and how these changes impact Ohio's physician community," Mary Wall, president of the state medical association, said in a released statement. "By pairing Mr. Hodges with a clinical team to be selected by a highly capable Dr. Applegate, we feel this leadership approach holds great promise for the immediate future of Ohio's Medical Community."

Rob Nichols, the governor's spokesman, added in a released statement Tuesday, "Of course we know that he's qualified or we never would have appointed him, but to give credence to the predictable, shrill attacks from partisan activists like these is puzzling. The health of the people of this state deserves to be above politics and this decision has already been supported by some of the most qualified health care professionals in the state."

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