The MHA announced two winners of its Special Recognition Award during the Annual Membership Meeting June 29, recognizing them for extensive contributions to healthcare. Each of the winners has uniquely influenced healthcare in Michigan. The winners include Elizabeth Hertel, director, Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS), and Natasha Bagdasarian, MD, MPH, FIDSA, chief medical executive, state of Michigan.
Elizabeth Hertel was a critical part of Michigan’s COVID response, leading work to expand hospital resources, gain access to the COVID-19 vaccine for Michigan residents and assuring equitable distribution and issuing public health orders. She was appointed MDHHS director January 2021, which followed an extensive healthcare and policy career, including time spent with MDHHS, Trinity Health Michigan, the Michigan House Republican Policy Office and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Hertel’s experience proved vital during a challenging time of the pandemic when most of Michigan’s population had yet to receive access to the COVID-19 vaccine and establish any immunity against severe disease. She played a large role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to hospitals, health systems and other healthcare providers to distribute during the spring of 2021. The issuing of public health orders also played a part in changing public behavior to slow the rate of infection, particularly during times when hospitals experienced surges of patients for sustained time periods.
The MHA and member hospitals and health systems received open lines of communication with Hertel and members of her executive staff throughout the pandemic, proving crucial in providing hospital leadership and crisis command teams with the appropriate information about changing policy and regulatory issues, which allowed clinical teams to effectively focus on patient care.
Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian was also instrumental in the state’s COVID response after being named the Chief Medical Executive in October 2021. Since her appointment, she has been an important partner for hospital clinical leaders, maintaining strong engagement with the MHA and clinicians on a regular basis throughout multiple COVID-19 surges. She helped lead development of the state’s clinical strategy and mitigation efforts including testing, masking, isolation and quarantine. She also developed the state’s “Response, Recovery, Readiness” cycle and guidance for schools and other organizations, as well as consulted on COVID-19 testing programs that helped Michiganders access over-the-counter testing.
Prior to her current role, Dr. Bagdasarian oversaw the COVID-19 testing strategy for the state and helped bring rapid testing technologies to vulnerable populations while serving the State of Michigan in the role of Senior Public Health Physician. Since early 2020, she has also served as a consultant/technical advisor for the World Health Organization, providing guidance on outbreak preparedness and COVID-19.
Dr. Bagdasarian is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in both Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases and is a Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Besides her work in Michigan, she has worked in Singapore and Bangladesh and has over 40 publications on topics in infectious diseases and public health. She has held teaching appointments at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and the National University of Singapore and is currently an Adjunct Clinical Professor in Epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.