Have you considered hiring a chief health officer?

Chief health officer would have cross-departmental authority, high visibility on campus and a direct line to the president
By: | July 14, 2020
A university's chief health officer could ensure campuses have enough supplies of personal protective equipment and educate communities on responsible behavior that prevents the spread of COVID-19, among other initiatives. (GettyImages/adamkaz)A university's chief health officer could ensure campuses have enough supplies of personal protective equipment and educate communities on responsible behavior that prevents the spread of COVID-19, among other initiatives. (GettyImages/adamkaz)

What if colleges and universities added a senior administrator, a chief health officer, whose sole focus was to manage the coronavirus response and monitor whether everyone on campus is following safety precautions?

That suggestion is being made in a new article by Harris Search Associates, a higher ed executive recruiting firm. The authors suggest that this administrator could ensure campuses have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment and educate communities on responsible behavior that prevents the spread of COVID-19, among other initiatives.

Such an administrator should have cross-departmental authority, high visibility on campus and a direct line to the president, say the authors, Jeffrey G. Harris, the firm’s founder, and Richard A. Skinner, the former president of Clayton State University in Atlanta and Royal Roads University in British Columbia.

The University of Michigan hired a chief academic officer, or CHO, in 2006 to oversee and coordinate preparedness for both day-to-day public health issues and emergencies. That officer, the late Dr. Robert Winfield, went on to spearhead campuswide mental health, wellness and smoke-free initiatives, the authors note.


More from UB: Ways to encourage and enforce student compliance with social distancing


The university’s current chief health officer, Dr. Preeti Malani, has been highly visible since the COVID-19 outbreak. Malani has shared safety tips on social media, appeared in countless interviews, and participated in regional and national coronavirus task forces.

A campus CHO could serve a campus a source of trusted information in an environment of confusing and conflicting news reports.

“The mere appointment of a CHO … would send a strong message about the school’s commitment not only to the wellbeing of its students, faculty, and staff but also to the health of the public at large,” the authors write.

Campuses add chief wellness officers

A handful of other universities have added chief wellness officers to oversee public health issues.

For example, The University of Pennsylvania’s chief wellness officer, Dr. Benoit Dubé, recently talked about the health implications of the school’s plan to offer hybrid classes during the coming fall semester.

The Ohio State University’s chief wellness officer, Bernadette Melnyk, has also been a visible presence in the school’s response to COVID and its plans for the coming year.


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.