Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s interim deputy mayor of equity, health and human services, will leave her position next month after five years in City Hall, according to an internal memo obtained by The Baltimore Banner.

“It is with mixed emotions that I announce the departure” of Dzirasa, wrote Chief Administrative Officer Faith Leach in an email sent to members of Mayor Brandon Scott’s cabinet on Wednesday night. Her last day is June 5, according to the memo.

In a statement, Scott said he was grateful for her service and her commitment to ensuring that “science, data, and equity are kept at the forefront of our work to support Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents” throughout her tenure.

“We will deeply miss her leadership, but we celebrate her and her family as she takes a well-deserved break from public service,” he continued.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Dzirasa, known throughout City Hall as “Dr. D,” said serving Baltimoreans is her life’s most important work.

“I feel incredibly blessed to have supported my fellow residents during one of the most difficult and uncertain times in our recent history,” she said by email.

She said her transition, which will allow her to travel and spend more time with family, has been in the works for several months.

Deputy chief of staff J.D. Merrill will serve as Dzirasa’s interim replacement, according to the memo, which announced other hirings and promotions.

Leach’s memo cited a 2021 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study that found Baltimoreans were less likely to become sick and die from COVID-19 and more likely to receive vaccines than residents in similar cities.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The findings were a testament to city, state, federal and community systems Dzirasa established, Leach wrote.

Dr. Josh Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said Dzirasa had told him she would leave after the new health commissioner transitioned in.

”My sense is that she is ready for a different kind of a challenge,” said Sharfstein, who served on the search committee that recommended Dzirasa for health commissioner.

“I think she gave an awful lot. The pandemic was a very difficult and scary time and she was working very very hard,” he said. Dzirasa did a “remarkable job” of leading the city through the COVID pandemic, he said. ”The city had every reason to have one of the worst pandemic experiences in the country but didn’t ... and Dr. Dzirasa deserves a lot of the credit.”

Dzirasa was first appointed by then-Mayor Catherine Pugh to serve as health commissioner in 2019 and was promoted to interim deputy mayor in 2023.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

In her memo, Leach praised sustained reductions in the infant mortality rate during Dzirasa’s tenure; from 2018 to 2021, the death rate fell by 18%.

Leach’s memo also said Dzirasa supported a substance abuse disorder mobile health clinic program with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The program deployed a health department-owned RV to visit different communities throughout Baltimore and deliver opioid addiction services.

On Thursday morning, The Baltimore Banner and The New York Times published a yearlong investigation detailing overdose deaths in Baltimore, which is now the center of the worst drug crisis ever seen in a major American city. Baltimore’s death rate from 2018 to 2022 was nearly double that of any other large city; a statistic unknown by several top leaders, including Scott and Dzirasa, who used to lead the city’s Health Department.

Dzirasa said her decision to step down was not related to the article.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

In a statement, Leach said Dzirasa is one of the most incredible public servants she knows.

“She demonstrated incredible leadership during the pandemic and her work saved lives,” she said. “Her impact will be felt for years to come.”

Baltimore’s rate of deadly overdoses was high for years, but the introduction to the street market of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid — drove it to historic levels. On average, three people die of overdoses in Baltimore every day.

According to The Banner and New York Times collaboration, city leaders were once at the forefront of innovative public health treatment for opioid addiction. But in recent years, officials became consumed with other challenges, from an uptick in homicides following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Brandon Scott has defended the city’s response, telling reporters that City Hall has “done a great job of trying to focus on multiple epidemics at the same time.” The city has seen historical reductions in homicide throughout his tenure.

Scott pledged that Baltimore would do more to combat fatal overdose but requires additional resources. City Hall is currently suing opioid pharmaceutical giants, contending that such companies fueled an addiction crisis.