BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday appointed his fourth state health officer since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Nizar Wehbi is the deputy director of the Center for Health Policy and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He is scheduled to take over as leader of the North Dakota Department of Health on May 1.
“Dr. Wehbi brings the right combination of experience in clinical medicine, policy development and health administration that we need to create the best public health system in the country right here in North Dakota,” Burgum said in a statement.
The state health officer oversees the Department of Health and implements state laws governing the department. The officer also is a statutory member of several boards and commissions. The department oversees health-related programs dealing with issues ranging from disease prevention to hospital and clinic licensing to environmental regulation.
The position has been a revolving door since Maylynn Tufte resigned a couple of months after COVID-19 was detected in the state. She was replaced by Dr. Andrew Stahl, who stepped down in late August. Dr. Paul Mariani quit after 12 days on the job and was replaced by Dirk Wilke.
Prior to his current roles, Wehbi served as a senior planner in the Strategic Planning and Business Development Department at Nebraska Medicine. He began his career in clinical medicine, caring for patients in inpatient and outpatient settings and later, as an instructor of surgery at UNMC.
He will be paid $340,000 annually.
Stahl was hired for what would have been an annual salary of $261,000. Mariani was hired at an annual salary of $252,000,
Tufte, who was not a doctor, was paid $172,400 annually.
Wehbi earned his medical degree in Lithuania.
Wilke will return to his position as the Department of Health’s chief of staff. The department’s website says Wilke has a law degree from the University of North Dakota, though the State Board of Medical Examiners said he has never taken the bar exam in North Dakota.
He is paid $12,600 monthly, records show.
The North Dakota Legislature is considering a measure that would require the state’s health officer to be a physician. The bill passed the House and now awaits action by the Senate.