By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 2011; 8:33 PM
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Friday nominated a former commissioner of public health and a former adviser to two Virginia governors to oversee health and health-care finances in his new administration.
Mohammad Akhter, the public health commissioner in the early 1990s, will return to his former duties but with a different title - director of the Department of Health - and said he will expand the position's purview to include connecting District residents to local health-care jobs.
Meanwhile, Wayne Turnage will run the city's Department of Health Care Finance, which handles more than $2 billion in local and federal funds annually. Turnage was chief of staff when Timothy M. Kaine (D) was governor of Virginia, and he advised Kaine's predecessor, now-Sen. Mark Warner (D), on Medicaid and insurance reform.
The appointments capped Gray's first week as mayor and continued a mix of familiar and new faces in the administration.
In other appointments, Gray nominated Antonio D. Hunter as director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development and Linda Wharton Boyd as director of communications.
Hunter, a former division director in Small and Local Business Development, currently works for a company involved in the Dulles corridor Metrorail project, and he manages the participation of disadvantaged firms as subcontractors.
Boyd served as director of communications under then-Mayor Marion Barry in the late 1990s.
"As I have emphasized in announcing other talented professionals already on board, these individuals are team players with extensive backgrounds," Gray said at a news conference at the John A. Wilson Building.
Gray was director of the Department of Human Services when then-Mayor Sharon Pratt tapped Akhter to be public health commissioner.
Akhter, who said he now lives in Ward 2, is an adjunct professor at the Howard University College of Medicine, and he served six years as executive director of the American Public Health Association. He said he returned to District government because "Mr. Gray asked me."
But he also said he has a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set the system right." In an interview in the 1990s, Akhter told The Washington Post that he was frustrated that he did not have the resources to tackle some of the pressing health problems of that time: AIDS, tuberculosis, drug and alcohol addiction and infant mortality.
Today, the city struggles with serious health-care issues, including what to do about United Medical Center, a Southeast Washington hospital in which the city has invested heavily in recent years. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi has warned that subsidizing the hospital could affect the city's bond rating, but council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) says it's not yet time for the city to walk away.
Akhter, who promised to bring together the community and city leaders to discuss the issue, said he knows residents east of the Anacostia River "deserve better services."
At Health Care Finance, it will be Turnage's job to handle the city's chronic problem with obtaining federal reimbursement for Medicaid expenses, a situation that has cost the District millions of dollars.The department was created through legislation pushed by Gray as council chairman.
Turnage, chief of staff to the president of Virginia Commonwealth University, said he has already contacted the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the reimbursements.
He said he also has to pull together a staff for the agency, which has a "very high vacancy rate."
"Obviously, you need people to solve problems," he said.
Turnage said he will move from Henrico County in Virginia to the city next week.
Julie Hudman, Turnage's predecessor, and several of her senior deputies resigned in recent weeks.