Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, frustrated by the lack of COVID-19 testing in the city, has named a former physician turned investment advisor as the city's first Health and Healthcare Access Czar.
Dr. Kelvin Baggett, a one-time internist who is now an advisor for Dallas-based physician-founded private equity firm Pharos Capital, was announced during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Johnson has tasked Baggett with a number of jobs, primarily how to make sure the citizens of Dallas have access to testing and contact tracing.
"Our job as city leaders is to look out for our resident's interests," the mayor said of Baggett's hiring. "While we haven't yet seen disproportionate outcomes by race in the Dallas data, national data has shown some raw disparities by race, ethnicity, income and other factors in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. In our city, I'm concerned about the many families that don't have the same access to health care and testing as others. It's become clear to me that we need someone to work with all our partners, but is singularly focused on these complex issues for our residents."
The announcement comes as the federal government moves to end support for drive-through testing at two locations in Dallas County at the end of the month. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday he was hoping to convince federal officials to extend testing in Dallas, or at least provide the county with test kits and laboratory help so that the county wouldn't lose the ability to test 1,000 people a day for the virus.
Johnson said Tuesday that with businesses reopening across North Texas a more robust testing regime is vital to insure public health and to restore the city's vibrant economy.
Johnson said currently fewer than 2% of Dallas County's residents have been tested for the 2019 novel coronavirus and that more must be done.
"I am not interested in finger pointing or playing the blame game with testing availability," Johnson said Tuesday afternoon. "We are where we are and we know we aren't where we need to be."
As much as the city relies on Dallas County as the public health authority, Johnson said they weren't going to criticize what's been done and what they don't have, but rather would work with whoever they needed to in order to test as many people as possible. Of Dallas County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, Johnson said 44% of those live outside the Dallas city limits.
Johnson pointed to Baggett's experience as a physician and healthcare executive with Tenet Healthcare, along with his masters of public health and epidemiology, as tools that will help him figure out strategies for testing and contact tracing in the city.
According to his bio on PharosFunds.com, "Baggett completed training at Yale, and completed his advanced training at Johns Hopkins and Duke University Medical Center. He has a BS from the University of NC, an MD from East Carolina University, a Master in Public Health from Johns Hopkins, and an MBA from Duke."
"This virus is still spreading. People are still dying. We need you to hang tough. Wear a mask if you're out in public. Wash your hands regularly. Practice social distancing. Now is not the time for a party in the park or at your house; we're not out of the woods yet. There will be a time to celebrate in this city, because we're going to get through this, and I look forward to that day. It's just not today," Johnson said.