PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) – Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Director Dr. Cara Christ will be leaving her position on Aug. 27, joining Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona. She will be the longest-serving director in the history before she leaves her position.
Gov. Doug Ducey announced the leave on Twitter Wednesday morning, thanking Christ for her service. “She’s implemented effective statewide testing and internationally-recognized mass vaccination sites, established the national model Arizona SurgeLine, worked hard to increase vaccinations for communities in need, and so much more,” tweeted Ducey.
UPDATE: @AZDHS Director Dr. Cara Christ, who has been instrumental in the state’s COVID-19 response, will leave her position on August 27 for another leadership role at @BCBSAZ. 1/ pic.twitter.com/m1BBIX8N28— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) July 28, 2021
Christ has served as the director of ADHS since 2015 and has led a team that administered more than 1.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Under her leadership, Arizona was praised as a model for other states after setting up an around-the-clock mass vaccination site at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. In February, she gave a virtual tour of the facility to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
She has had her share of criticism during the pandemic as well. Some questioned why Christ did not lobby for more restrictions or mitigation measures during some case surges, especially when the state’s major hospital systems feared being overwhelmed.
One of those critics was her predecessor, Will Humble. He worked under Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and left two months into Ducey’s first term.
“I hope we don’t get someone who sees their job as working for the governor,” said Humble, who leads the Arizona Public Health Association. “Then you will be getting somebody unwilling to push back and consider the ramifications of the coming decisions.”
During his tenure, Humble wasn’t always in sync with Brewer’s office but that wasn’t unusual. State health officials “work for the people of Arizona. Yes, they report to the governor but they work for us,” Humble said.
Pam Kehaly, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona president and CEO, said in a statement that Christ will work in the areas of medical policy and provider relations in her role as chief medical officer for health insurance provider. She described Christ, who she collaborated with at mass vaccination sites, as someone “known for thinking big, approaching health strategically, and leveraging the best of medicine and science.”
The announcement comes a day after Christ said the department would update its recommendation to match the Centers for Disease and Control, which updated its mask guidance on Tuesday to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with "substantial" and "high" transmission of COVID-19. According to CDC data, this includes nearly two-thirds of all U.S. counties.
"Everyone in a K-12 setting, teachers, staff and students, should wear a mask," said Christ. "I think the masks provide another layer of protection."
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman called on Gov. Ducey to follow the CDC’s new announcement, recommending students and teachers in K-12 schools to continue enforcing mask policies. Hoffman expressed concern about younger students who have not received the vaccine yet. Ducey previously lifted the mask mandate in April that required K-12 schools to wear masks. Shortly after Ducey’s announcement, Hoffman disagreed with Ducey’s decision, stating masks have allowed schools to safely operate during the pandemic.
Most Arizona counties, including Maricopa and Pinal counties, fall in these categories of "substantial" and "high" transmission described by the CDC. Check all counties in Arizona here. Some cities in Arizona have already started updating their mask policies as well. The City of Peoria will require all city employees and visitors to wear masks inside city buildings beginning Thursday, July 29. This will apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Christ sent the following message to her colleagues within the department before Gov. Ducey's announcement:
Dear ADHS Family,
I’m writing to share news that for me is both exciting and filled with emotion. Next month I will depart ADHS, my professional home and family for 13 years, to become Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President of Network and Contracting for Blue Cross® Blue Shield® of Arizona. My first day there will be Aug. 30. Governor Ducey will send a formal announcement shortly, but I wanted you to hear the news directly from me. I am excited about this next step and incredible opportunity. However, this was a very difficult decision.
The past year has been unprecedented, and I am so honored to have navigated the challenges alongside all of you. Thank you for your endless work to protect public health and to ensure health and wellness for all Arizonans and our communities. Each of you makes a huge difference in the lives of so many. I am always proud to say I am part of this incredible team and all that we’ve done for the health of Arizonans. I know that many of you have heard me say this before, but I am the luckiest Director in state government because I get to work with such amazing, committed people on very important issues.
I will miss all of you, but I won’t be going very far. I’ve made a commitment to Governor Ducey and his team to continue to support the agency in any way that I can. You can count on me to always be a huge advocate for all that you do. I won’t forget the incredibly rewarding, but difficult job that comes with being a public health professional.
My last day with the agency won’t be until Aug. 27. There will be more news in the coming days about short- and longer-term plans for agency leadership. For now, please accept my sincere thanks. I’ll admit a heavy heart as I write this, but one thing I don’t worry about is ADHS. The talent, professionalism, creativity, and camaraderie that drives this team every day ensures that ADHS will continue making Arizona a better place. Thanks for letting me be a part of this family.