BOSTON Dr. Lauren Smith, who has led the Department of Public Health through the turbulent fallout from a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak and during the crafting of new medical marijuana regulations, is stepping down in early May.
Said Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz in a letter to staff Friday:
I thank Lauren for her leadership of DPH during this time. Her work has led to enhanced public health and renewed public trust in the Department. We have launched a search for a successor to take over as commissioner in the near future and I look forward to providing you with additional updates soon. In the meantime, we are grateful that Lauren will assist with finalization of medical marijuana regulations and other important initiatives over the coming weeks during this transition period.
A pediatrician who has railed against the marketing efforts of tobacco companies, Smith will leave the post on May 10, a little more than six months after her start as interim commissioner in November.
Smith is “taking some time to catch her breath” before her next step, she told colleagues, according to an Executive Office of Health and Human Services official.
Smith was appointed after the departure of former Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, who announced he would step down in September after major problems were discovered at a drug lab formerly run by DPH.
Auerbach took a new position at Northeastern University on Nov. 1, 2012. In early October, before Auerbach’s departure, health officials traced a fungal meningitis outbreak to New England Compounding Center, a Framingham pharmacy overseen in part by the Board of Registration in Pharmacy, under DPH.
In November, voters approved a law legalizing medical marijuana, and DPH issued draft medical marijuana regulations last Friday. In addition, DPH has handled the regulatory side of new health cost-control legislation and a prescription monitoring program.
Polanowicz praised Smith for testifying in front of Congress in support of stricter pharmacy regulations, helping Gov. Deval Patrick craft his proposal for overhauling pharmacy oversight in the state.
Polanowicz also noted Smith’s previous work responding to the swine flu pandemic and drafting sports head injury regulations.
Before becoming interim commissioner, Smith was DPH medical director, and played a role in responding to the burgeoning meningitis crisis before her promotion.
HHS Director of Communications Alec Loftus declined to say whether Smith was a candidate to be the next commissioner.
“We have launched a search for a successor to take over as commissioner in the near future and I look forward to providing you with additional updates soon,” Polanowicz wrote in his email.