Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott is tapping a veteran of the city’s health department to head the massive agency that has been without a permanent leader for more than seven months.

Dr. Ihuoma Emenuga will take over as city health commissioner Jan. 22, if confirmed by the Board of Estimates. She will replace Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, who became deputy mayor for health, equity and human services.

Emenuga previously had served in the department as medical director of the Youth Wellness and Community Health Division, as well as medical director for Chase Brexton Health Care and other local health systems. Most recently, she worked as a managing partner at the consulting firm Vie Health.

“Our public health infrastructure is one of our city’s most important networks,” Scott said in a statement announcing the nomination.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Given her background, I know she will bring her extensive experience, dedication to public health, and innovative thinking to her work on behalf of Baltimoreans in every neighborhood,” he said. “As we safeguard all types of health in our communities, Dr. Emenuga will be critical in helping us build a healthier, more equitable Baltimore.”

The health department is responsible for a host of programs affecting the health and well-being of most every Baltimorean, from infectious disease control and prevention to child and even animal welfare. It has about 900 employees and an annual budget of about $208 million.

The department has typically been led by a medical doctor; Emenuga is an internal medicine doctor with a medical degree from the University of Nigeria and a master’s degree in public health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine at the University of London. She also earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business.

The health department has a history of aggressive work to stem poverty, hunger, gun violence, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and addiction, as well as intractable health inequities. It also has a long-time program to improve child health, including reducing the number of infant deaths.

Vaccination, testing and tracing programs became a particular focus during the coronavirus pandemic, which revealed major gaps in local and national public health infrastructure and strained resources and workers.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I feel privileged to join a formidable team at the health department, while tapping into the deep commitment and rich culture of Baltimoreans,” Emenuga said in a statement. “I am excited to be a part of building the public health infrastructure of the future, and creating a healthcare environment that works for everyone.”

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former city health commissioner who served on the selection committee, said Emenuga brings a wealth of experience to the position, including her work at the department. He said he expects her to come in with a lot of ideas.

“I’m particularly excited about her background in community health, in addition to her experience in public health,” said Sharfstein, currently the vice dean for public health practice and community engagement for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“She brings tremendous energy and enthusiasm — one might even call it contagious,” Sharfstein said. ”Though that might not be the best term for a public health professional to choose.”

Meredith Cohn is a health and medicine reporter for The Baltimore Banner, covering the latest research, public health developments and other news. She has been covering the beat in Baltimore for more than two decades. 

More From The Banner