Pediatric specialist tapped to take over troubled Mass. Department of Public Health

The Patrick administration has tapped Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the state Department of Public Health, to take over as interim commissioner of the troubled agency.

Smith, who specializes in childhood health, will inherit a department that is under scrutiny after two scandals—the mishandling of drug evidence by a chemist at the agency’s former drug lab, which has jeopardized thousands of criminal cases, and the national fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a Framingham speciality pharmacy that was regulated by the agency’s Board of Registration in Pharmacy.

Her predecessor, John Auerbach, announced his resignation last month after five years in the job.

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State health secretary Dr. JudyAnn Bigby said in a statement Thursday that Smith “starts her role at a critical time, and I know she will exercise her leadership and passion for public health to guide the department forward.”

Bigby said Smith has led the department’s efforts to promote public health in the state’s schools and address health disparities in communities.

Smith played a central role in helping to develop the state’s revamped school nutrition rules last year, among the most stringent in the country.

Bigby said Smith has spearheaded many health priorities of the administration including Mass in Motion, a program that combats obesity and promotes healthy living.

“She coordinated the department’s response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak and directed efforts to prevent head injuries in student athletes. She has also led the way at DPH on promoting school nutrition and addressing health disparities for women and minorities,” Bigby said.

As a pediatric hospitalist and researcher, Smith’s clinical and academic work has focused on child health disparities and the impact of public policy on child well-being. Prior to joining the department, she served as the medical director of Inpatient Pediatrics and the Medical-Legal Partnership at Boston Medical Center. She completed her residency and chief residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and her fellowship in general pediatrics at Boston Medical Center.

She graduated from the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and an has a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. She completed her undergraduate studies at Harvard College.