Abdul El-Sayed talkikng to a group
Gubernatorial Democratic Candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed visits his campaign headquarters in Detroit on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. (Kimberly P. Mitchell, Detroit Free Press)

Detroit’s former health director and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is stepping into a new role at Wayne County.

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

El-Sayed joined Wayne County’s Health, Human and Veterans Services Department as a project consultant last week, according to a news release, and will transition to the role of director of the department in March, pending Wayne County Commission approval.

El-Sayed said the new endeavor is an opportunity to take lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and implement them into department operations. Current director Melita Jordan will continue in her role through March 1.

“Health equity has to really be the focus and the frame for everything that we do,” El-Sayed, 38, told the Free Press on Monday. He pointed to issues he’d like to focus on, including maternal and child health, environmental health, senior well-being and access to high quality health care services.

El-Sayed said public service has always been his goal. He led the City of Detroit’s Health Department from 2015 to 2017. In 2018, he ran a progressive campaign for governor and lost the bid.

He said his past job helming Detroit’s health department, which he described as a “rebuild,” informs his new endeavor at the county level. He came into his city role, as Detroit’s health department was transitioning back under into city control, post-bankruptcy, after being dismantled in 2012 due to cost-cutting measures.

“I learned a lot about how you design a health department to serve the needs of a really diverse community in Detroit and those experiences I’m certainly going to bring with me to the county,” he said.

In late 2020, El-Sayed began helping the City of Detroit identify funding to prevent water shut offs and advise on an affordability program. 

Currently, the City of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department has an 18-month pilot program called the Lifeline Plan, but has not announced any long-term sources of funding for the program.

“With the change in leadership in Lansing, there’s going to be a lot more opportunity to work with the state Legislature to find some long term solutions and we’ll continue to do work from there,” he said.

He said water affordability is not just a Detroit issue, and pointed to all levels of government − federal, state, county and city − working together to identify ways to guarantee water affordability.

El-Sayed − the son of Egyptian immigrants − is a physician, epidemiologist and author, according to his website. He hosts a podcast called “America Dissected,” about public health, which he said, in social media posts, he will continue to host.

He has a doctorate in public health from Oxford University, where he was also a Rhodes Scholar. El-Sayed, who was born and raised in metro Detroit, received his medical degree from Columbia University.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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