The state has named an Indianapolis-based OB-GYN as Indiana’s next health commissioner.
Kristina Box will fill the position left vacant earlier this month when former health commissioner Jerome Adams became U.S. Surgeon General.
The state health commissioner oversees public health initiatives in Indiana, including efforts to curb disease outbreaks, drug addiction and infant mortality.
“I can think of no one better suited than Dr. Box to lead our state’s health department at this critical time in Indiana history,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb in a written statement.
Box has practiced women’s health for nearly three decades. She currently works at Indianapolis’ Community Health Network and in private practice. The release from the Governor’s office says she’s credited with building the organization’s first multi-disciplinary women’s center.
She also served as a member of the state’s task force for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which affects newborns exposed to addictive substances in the womb.
Box’s work with neonatal abstinence syndrome put her at the intersection of two of Indiana’s most pressing health crises — the opioid epidemic and infant health.
Indiana has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. In 2015, more than seven out of every 1,000 babies born in the state died before their first birthday. Only six states have a higher rate.
In the statement, Box said she plans to make decreasing infant mortality a top priority.
In recent years Box has dipped her toe into state politics, testifying in support of women’s health initiatives and serving on the task force for neonatal abstinence syndrome. But says her colleague and Community Health Vice President of Women’s and Children’s Services Donetta Gee-Weiler, Box didn’t have any greater aspirations to work in state government.
“And she got the call out of the blue that she had been nominated and there was a lot of interest in her," Gee-Weiler said. "From that point, I think she felt that it was something God was guiding her to.”
In the Governor’s statement Box said “throughout my career I have focused on promoting the health of my individual patients and their unborn children …” .
Gee-Weiler said Box is a hard worker and leader who’s guided by her faith.
“I worked with her as a nurse early in my career, and one of the things we always loved about her was she was truly patients-first,” she said.
Box’s predecessor, Adams, was an outspoken advocate for harm-reduction initiatives such as syringe exchange programs.
While other state health officials, notably Adams and current Indiana Family and Social Services Administration head Jennifer Walthall, continued to work as physicians during their time with the state, Gee-Weiler said Box plans to devote herself full-time to her new job.
Box’s first day at work is scheduled for Oct. 16.
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health.