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Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday elevated the role of Michigan’s chief medical executive to a cabinet-level position, reflecting an increased focus on health policy following the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint.

The change means that Dr. Eden Wells, Michigan’s chief medical executive, will continued to be situated in the Department of Health and Human Services but report directly to Snyder.

Snyder also created a Public Health Advisory Commission, which will be led by the chief medical executive. The commission’s 24 members will include state department heads and representatives of nursing, pharmacy, medical education, veterinary science and other medical fields.

The moves were recommended by a Flint advisory task force that the Republican governor appointed last year after high lead levels were identified in the bloodstreams of many of Flint’s children.

Wells has played a key role in advising Snyder on multiple health issues such as the Zika virus and promoting vaccinations.

“Anything we can do in our state to elevate the importance and the information we have about public health is very beneficial,” said Marianne Udow-Phillips, director of the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation at the University of Michigan.

“The governor has clearly been making changes to make (the chief medical executive) a more important and meaningful role, and to have more resources go into that position.”

The cabinet office will help spread public health information and urge disease prevention, according to the Governor’s Office, as well as promote health initiatives.

“We are continuing our efforts to improve the way state government works and ensure that we put people first across all departments and agencies of state government,” Snyder said in a Thursday statement. “The chief medical executive and this commission will help us better protect the public health and safety of all Michiganders.”

The Public Health Advisory Commission will advise the Governor’s Office on public health issues. Members will review best practices across the nation and make recommendations to Snyder by April 1.

The commission will include the directors or their designates from the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development; Environmental Quality; Health and Human Services; Licensing and Regulatory Affairs; and the State Police Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

KBouffard@detroitnews.com

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