Former CDC director Richard Besser, MD, named Robert Wood Johnson Foundation CEO

Besser, who is currently the health and medical editor for ABC News, succeeds Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, who led the organization for 14 years.
By Jessica Davis
12:44 PM

Richard Besser, MD

Richard Besser, MD, chief health and medical editor for ABC News and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was appointed president and chief operating officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the organization announced Monday.

RWJF is the largest charitable foundation solely focused on healthcare.

Besser succeeds Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, who led the organization for 14 years. During that time, Lavizzo-Mourey directed the organization's programming on reducing childhood obesity, promoting health equity and expanding healthcare coverage.

Besser will continue Lavizzo-Mourey's work on the Culture of Health in America program, officials said, which is designed to provide equal healthcare opportunities to everyone in the U.S., by providing access to healthy food, safe housing, transportation, education and jobs.

"Richard Besser is a superb choice to lead RWJF into the next stage of our work," said Roger Fine, RWJF board chairman, in a statement. "He's a smart, empathetic leader and communicator – someone who can build on the great energy we have been developing around our Culture of Health vision."

"It is truly an honor to be selected to lead RWJF, a foundation so deeply committed to building a Culture of Health in this country," said Besser in a statement. "Working to improve the health and well-being of all Americans is a high calling. Doing it here, with an organization of such stature and credibility will be a great honor and privilege."

Before joining ABC News, Besser served as the CDC's director of Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, where he was responsible for all public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities. He also served as acting director from January to June 2009, leading the CDC's response to the H1N1 epidemic.

His career began at CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service working on the epidemiology of foodborne diseases. He also served as the pediatric residency director for five years at the University of California, San Diego. He returned to the CDC in 1998.

He's currently a professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health. Besser will take over Lavizzo-Mourey's position in April.

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