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November 04, 2021

Dr. Cheryl Bettigole named commissioner of Philly health department

The family physician had been an interim replacement after the resignation of Dr. Thomas Farley

Health News Government
Cheryl Bettigole Philly Albert Lee/City of Philadelphia

Dr. Cheryl Bettigole is now the commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Bettigole had served as acting commissioner since May, when former health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley resigned.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has appointed Dr. Cheryl Bettigole to be commissioner of the city's health department, a role she took over on an interim basis following the resignation of Dr. Thomas Farley in May.

Bettigole replaced Farley in the midst of a scandal over the handling of human remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing in West Philadelphia, where 11 people were killed after the city authorized the bombing of rowhomes occupied by the Black liberation group.

Farley had authorized the cremation and disposal of the remains without notifying surviving members of the Africa family in 2017. It was later discovered that Farley's orders were not followed and that the remains had been kept in boxes at the Medical Examiner's Office.

Bettigole stepped in to lead the health department just as the delta variant created a new surge of coronavirus infections across Philadelphia. She also took over as the city's vaccination efforts were scaling up, with a concerted effort to reach underserved communities.

"I am honored by this opportunity to serve our city and to further our goal of promoting and protecting the health of all Philadelphians," Bettigole said. "I look forward to continuing this work with my colleagues and our many valued partners throughout the city. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of equity, access and the use of a data-informed approach in every aspect of public health, and I am committed to championing those priorities in the work ahead."

Bettigole is a board certified family physician who completed medical school at Thomas Jefferson University. She also holds a masters degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and a masters in anthropology from the University of Chicago. 

In the past, Bettigole served as chief medical officer of a federally qualified community and migrant health center in southern New Jersey and as a family physician and clinical director with Philadelphia's City Health Centers.

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Philadelphia have fallen in recent weeks after climbing in the late summer. More than 71% of adults are fully vaccinated and nearly 88% of adults have received at least one dose. About 66% of children over 12 are fully vaccinated and and 81% have received at least one dose.

With the announcement this week that children between 5-11 years old are now eligible to get vaccinated, the health department has ordered supplies and unveiled plans to make the pediatric vaccine available at clinics and pharmacies.

An ongoing city probe is still examining the handling of the MOVE victims' remains, which were returned to the Africa family and buried by a tree in Bartram's Garden this summer.

After conducting a national search for a new health commissioner, Kenney commended Bettigole and expressed confidence in her ability to lead the department.

"Throughout her entire career, Dr. Bettigole has demonstrated a deep commitment to prioritizing equity, access and prevention in public health," Kenney said. "I'm confident that with her experience, vision and steadfast leadership, we've found the best person to lead the Health Department as we work urgently on multiple fronts to ensure the health and wellbeing of all residents."

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