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McDonald named interim RIDOH director: Part of new transition team

Dr James McDonald, medical director of the RI Department of Health (RIDOH) since Feb 2012, has been named interim director following the resignation of Director Dr Nicole Alexander-Scott on Jan 13 and of Deputy Director Tom McCarthy on Jan 18, both resignations effective Feb 1, according to a statement issued this morning by the office of Gov. Daniel McKee. “Dr. McDonald will assume the day-to-day responsibilities of RIDOH director while the search for a permanent candidate continues,” the statement said.

Dr James McDonald of the RI Dept of Health and Dr Philip Chan of the medical school at Brown University (L-R), in a publicity photo for their podcast “Public Health Out Loud.”

McDonald will be familiar to many from his appearances standing in for Alexander-Scott to give her a break from the grueling daily press conference during the first months of the pandemic. He is board-certified in both pediatric and preventative medicine, and served as a medical officer with the US Navy including as director of health services for the Naval Health Clinic New England in Newport. In collaboration with Dr Philip Chan of the medical school at Brown University, he has produced a weekly podcast series “Public Health Out Loud” since Nov 2020. McDonald, known for self-deprecating humor, posed in a publicity photo back-to-back with Chan — who is a head taller. In an Aug 2021 on-air interview with WPRI Channel 12, McDonald hurled jelly beans around his office to demonstrate the ease of contagion from the Delta variant of the virus.

In addition to McDonald, McKee named three others to what he termed the “Health Transition Support Team.”

Ana Novais currently serves as assistant secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and previously worked for RIDOH as deputy director, as education and outreach co-ordinator focusing on children’s health issues, and as minority health co-ordinator.

Ernie Almonte currently serves as chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and previously served for 16 years as the Rhode Island Auditor General where he was responsible for the State of Rhode Island financial, performance and fraud audits.

Chris Abhulime is deputy chief of staff to McKee. He has a background in clinical laboratory science in addition to being board-certified as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, and he is a doctor of veterinary medicine.

“Our Administration has moved quickly to put an experienced leadership team in place at the Rhode Island Department of Health to ensure that our COVID-19 response remains strong,” McKee was quoted saying the statement. “I thank Dr. McDonald, Assistant Secretary Novais, Ernie Almonte, and Chris Abhulime for stepping up and I look forward to continuing to work with all of them during this transition. I also want to thank the career staff at the Department of Health who continue to do the work of ensuring access to quality health services for all Rhode Islanders.”