Baton Rouge, LA—Governor Jeff Landry and the Louisiana Department of Health announced key leadership changes within the Louisiana Department of Health. Secretary Dr. Ralph Abraham will move to the newly created Office of the Surgeon General, Undersecretary Michael Harrington will become the Department’s Secretary, Chief of Staff Drew Maranto will become the new Undersecretary, and LDH Director of Legislative and Governmental Relations Bethany Blackson will be the Chief of Staff.


Governor Landry made the leadership changes upon signing House Bill 853, which creates the Office of the Surgeon General. The Surgeon General is co-equal with the Secretary within the Department’s organizational chart, and is charged with crafting health policy, including healthcare workforce development; advocating for wellness and disease prevention, and coordinating with other state agencies and institutions to improve health outcomes in Louisiana.  


Under the bill, the Surgeon General is appointed by the Governor and must be a licensed and practicing physician in Louisiana. The Surgeon General will absorb the duties of the State health Officer, making the new position budget neutral. 


Abraham has been a practicing family medicine physician in Richland Parish for more than 30 years and served three terms in Congress, representing Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. Before earning his Medical Doctor degree from LSU Health Shreveport, he practiced veterinary medicine for 10 years. 


The Secretary of the Department of Health is responsible for implementing the Surgeon General’s recommendations, overseeing fiscal matters and ensuring the operations of the Department are carried out efficiently and effectively. Both the Secretary and the Surgeon General report directly to the Governor. 


Harrington is a former hospital system executive with more than 25 years of service in both for-profit and not-for-profit health systems. He has a long record of developing innovative systems that engage people with a focus on growing patient safety and prioritizing financial viability. 


Another key leadership change at LDH is the promotion of Chief of Staff Drew Maranto to Undersecretary. In this role, Maranto will oversee the State Medicaid program, as well as eight administrative divisions with departmental responsibilities for budget preparation, financial planning, purchasing, personnel, accounting, data processing and development of strategic and operational plans.  


“I am confident that Surgeon General Abraham and Secretary Harrington are going to form a dynamic team that puts the health needs of Louisianans first. They will ensure coordination between agencies and institutions as we move our state forward in a coherent unified direction,” Governor Landry said. “It has been a top priority for me to have a doctor oversee health policy and have a talented health executive oversee implementation, which is what we have with Dr. Abraham and Secretary Harrington. I also want to thank Rep. Brach Myers, who carried the bill that made this momentous change possible, and the Legislature for unanimously approving it. We are One Team and One Louisiana, focused on ensuring the Louisiana Department of Health is a highly responsive agency that meets the health needs of all Louisianans while safeguarding their safety and welfare.” 


“It is an honor to serve as Louisiana’s first Surgeon General, and I am particularly excited about the opportunity it will afford me to help modernize the Department, improve health outcomes, pursue innovative policy and work closely with agencies and institutions throughout Louisiana,” Dr. Abraham said. “This position was created to reverse the prior trend of bureaucrats creating policy and doctors reacting to it, moving us in a unified way forward. This is the culmination of my life’s work dedicated to improving the lives of patients, so I look forward to bringing a doctor’s point of view to health policy and continuing to work toward Governor Landry’s goal of making a stronger, healthier Louisiana.” 


“Becoming the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health means overseeing a budget of more than $20 billion and more than 8,000 employees, and I am looking forward to shepherding those resources responsibly and in a way that delivers results for Louisiana,” Harrington said. “Healthcare accounts for nearly 50% of the state budget and impacts nearly every aspect of our economy. The team Governor Landry and I envision puts a doctor in charge of promoting health policy and the Secretary in charge of implementing that vision. I look forward to helping lead a team that is so dedicated to making Louisiana healthier than we found it.”