Hopkins pediatrician tapped for Balto. Co. health chief


Dr. Michelle A. Leverett projects the kind of image Baltimore County would like to reclaim: young, enthusiastic, energetic.

The 32-year-old Johns Hopkins pediatrician is the choice of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III to become director of the county Health Department.

The selection -- subject to approval by the state health department -- fulfills a promise Mr. Ruppersberger made in February to the Baltimore County West Ministerial Alliance, an association of black ministers, to seek a black department head. Dr. Leverett will be only the second black department head in county history.

She was among three people proposed to Mr. Ruppersberger for the post by a search committee headed by former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly. Mr. Ruppersberger said the committee had found someone with a "strong commitment to public health."

Dr. Leverett is a 1988 graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She joined the Hopkins hospital staff in 1993 after two years in her home state of Mississippi, where she provided pediatric care in rural areas almost bereft of medical services.

"There were some places that had never seen a pediatrician," she said. "I enjoyed it because the people were happy to have me."

She also has had inner-city experience in Baltimore and in Greenwood, Miss., where she worked in a pilot program that trained residents to serve as health care mentors.

"It's my job to find problem areas and tackle them," she said yesterday, between patients at the Johnson Medical Center on Kirk Avenue in Baltimore. The center is one of 18 family health care centers operated by Johns Hopkins Medical Services.

"If I knew how to fix all the health problems facing society, I would be rich," she said. "But I know what the problems are, and I'm prepared to deal with them."

Teen-age pregnancy and the effect of drugs on babies are at the top of her list of problems to be attacked.

"I think teen-age pregnancy reflects a lack of attention from parents," she said. "The girls who are most successful in avoiding this trap are the ones who can talk frankly to their parents about sex."

Dr. Leverett, the mother of a 2-year-old girl, said she is appalled by the damage inflicted by drugs.

She recognizes the diversity of age in the county, which has an increasing school enrollment and a growing senior population.

"Senior citizens need to be focused on as well as the young. Infectious diseases hit the very young and the elderly hardest, and we have to be alert to the consequences," she said. "This is a major administrative job, but I also want to get around and be a spokesperson for good health. I also have to talk with everyone I can in the department to get a firm grip on the problem areas in the county."

Dr. Leverett and her husband, Keith, live in Laurel, but they plan to move to the county. Mr. Leverett works for Russel BMW in Catonsville. Although she will remain on the Hopkins staff, Dr. Leverett said, she expected to be giving up the practice of medicine during her tenure in the public health job.

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