The Mississippi State Board of Health has named Dr. Daniel P. Edney the new state health officer, the highest public-health office in Mississippi. Edney will replace the outgoing Dr. Thomas Dobbs as head of the Mississippi State Department of Health on Aug. 1. Dobbs has held the position for more than three years, leading Mississippi’s public-health response through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Edney, a former president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, highlights infant and maternal mortality and opioids as among his top priorities in his new role as Mississippi’s top doctor.
“Following in the footsteps of Dr. Dobbs, I, too, hope to serve as a catalyst for change—especially with infant and maternal mortality, the opioids battle plaguing the country right now, and moving the needle in preventive health and health equity issues,” Edney said in a statement.
The state health officer has a high degree of autonomy and authority over the operation of Mississippi’s medical system. In addition to serving as one of the key advisers to the governor on public-health issues, the state health officer is capable of issuing powerful guidance to hospitals and medical providers across a variety of settings.
Edney joined the Mississippi State Department of Health in early 2021, serving as chief medical officer. He then took on the role of deputy state health officer in March. Dobbs had high praise for Edney’s role in the public agency thus far.
“Among his various contributions, Dr. Edney worked with various organizations and partnerships to explain COVID and answer questions. He has also worked with providers to sign them up to give COVID vaccine, and he fielded questions from providers about allergies and other complications related to the administration of the vaccine,” Dobbs said in the statement.
“He’s the right man for the job and will help us in our collective work to move (Mississippi’s) health forward,” Dobbs added on social media.
Edney will inherit a public-health agency in a period of serious transition. As Dobbs told the Mississippi Free Press in a recent exit interview, MSDH is currently shifting away from direct pandemic response and into its more traditional role addressing the broader public-health climate of the state.
But no guarantee exists that COVID-19 is done with the U.S. or Mississippi in particular. Indeed, a rising tide of infections is currently expanding across the country, as waning immunity to the still-mutating omicron variant exposes previously infected and vaccinated individuals.
Still, federal aid to states to continue to test, track and combat the pandemic continues to dwindle. MSDH has already begun to limit and rotate the available free COVID-19 testing locations across the state, citing the end of federal and National Guard support.
Edney is no stranger to COVID-19 messaging. For much of the pandemic, he has been a presence at regular COVID-19 press events with MSMA and MSDH leadership. But his new role will put him at the apex of a health agency with a limited budget, new responsibilities including a medical-marijuana program, and a bevy of serious, ongoing health and health-equity challenges.
Remaining in leadership is State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, Director of Health Protection Jim Craig, and Director of Preventive Health and Health Equity Dr. Victor Sutton, among others.