Governor Doug Ducey today announced Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ, who has been instrumental in the state’s COVID-19 response, will leave her position on August 27 for another leadership role as chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.
“When Cara Christ became a doctor, she did it to help others and save lives. That’s exactly what she’s done,” said Governor Ducey. “She dedicated countless hours to protecting millions of Arizonans from the COVID-19 pandemic — and she’s done it with grace, stability and confidence. She implemented effective statewide testing and internationally-recognized mass vaccination sites, established the national model Arizona SurgeLine, worked hard to increase vaccinations for communities in need, and so much more.
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“By mid-August, Dr. Christ will be the longest-serving ADHS director. And she was a dedicated leader long before the pandemic hit — developing the Arizona Opioid Action Plan and the Zika Action Plan, expanding access to health care institutions and child care facilities, and always taking creative approaches to better protecting Arizonans. Through any and every challenge, Dr. Christ put the health and safety of Arizonans first. I am deeply grateful for her years of leadership and service to our state, and I wish her continued success at her new opportunity with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.”
Dr. Christ has led the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) as director since May 2015 after serving as chief medical officer, licensing director and deputy director of public health for the department since 2008. She will be the longest-serving director in the history of the department as of August 13, before her departure from the position.
Dr. Christ, an Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Microbiology from Arizona State University. She earned her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.
“Before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, my number one priority has been protecting the health of Arizonans all across our state,” said Dr. Christ. “When the pandemic hit, the entire state came together to contain the spread and protect one another — and I’m grateful to everyone who worked with our team at the Arizona Department of Health Services to protect fellow Arizonans. It has been an honor to lead ADHS and work to keep Arizonans of all ages, backgrounds and unique needs healthy and safe. I’m so proud to have been a part of this administration, and I thank Governor Ducey for entrusting me with responsibility for public health in Arizona and for working with me closely in the state’s response to COVID-19.”
“Even before the pandemic, Dr. Christ had a reputation for thinking big, approaching health strategically, and leveraging the best of medicine and science to improve life and health for Arizonans,” said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona President and CEO Pam Kehaly. “As we welcome Dr. Christ to the BCBSAZ team, we look forward to continuing our excellent collaboration with the state.”
In her 13 years at the department and more than six years as director, Dr. Christ protected public health across Arizona. Details on her exemplary service can be found below.
Since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Christ has worked closely with fellow health experts, members of the community, businesses, schools and health care institutions to limit the spread of the virus and effectively distribute the vaccine. She has held regular briefings to update the public on the latest information so Arizonans are well-informed about the virus. She has also been responsible for leading a team that:
• Administered more than 1.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at nationally and internationally recognized state-operated mass vaccination centers;
• Implemented a statewide testing strategy at the start of the pandemic;
• Oversaw the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory, which was one of the first state laboratories in the nation to be approved to test for COVID-19;
• Developed the statewide Arizona SurgeLine, identified as a national best practice, to ensure hospital capacity and equity;
• Provided more than 1,300 traveling nurses to hospitals during COVID-19 surges;
• Implemented a real-time dashboard of COVID-19 data that earned an A+ from the COVID Tracking Project;
• Released the award-winning Vaccine Management System (VMS) that managed more than 1,700 events and registered 2.6 million appointments; and
• Earned recognition as one of the top three states in the U.S. for ensuring equity in vaccination statewide.
In addition to her leadership alongside Governor Ducey in the state’s response to COVID-19, Dr. Christ developed the nationally recognized Arizona Opioid Action Plan. The plan includes implementation of a Chronic Pain and Addiction Curriculum at health profession training programs statewide, development of a real time data dashboard for opioid overdoses and deaths, training for law enforcement agencies to administer naloxone to save lives, and much more.
Dr. Christ led the implementation of the Maternal Mortality Breakthrough Action Plan, including implementing maternal safety bundles with recruited hospitals and developing mental health, substance use and ‘postpartum warning signs’ resources with distribution to birthing facilities. She also led Arizona’s successful responses to the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Influenza, the 2014 West Africa Ebola Outbreak, and the 2015 and 2016 Measles Outbreaks.
In addition, under Dr. Christ’s leadership:
• The employee engagement score at ADHS increased by 250 percent;
• The department became nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board;
• Licensing application times for health care institutions and child care facilities reduced by 80-95 percent, reducing turnaround times from as much as 243 days to 15 days;
• The Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency was successfully transitioned to ADHS;
• ADHS developed the nationally recognized Zika Action Plan and Zika prevention campaign (which was featured in National Geographic) and ultimately prevented endemic spread from occurring in Arizona; and
• The state’s first Arizona State Health Improvement Plan (2016-2020) was completed and the 2021-2025 Arizona Health Improvement Plan was developed.
Dr. Christ has received numerous recognitions and awards for her leadership and public health service, including:
• Healthcare Innovator, Az Business Leaders (2021)
• Inaugural Civic Service Award, Greater Phoenix Chamber Impact Awards (2021)
• Transformational Leader, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2020)
• Most Influential Women in Arizona Business, Az Business Magazine (2020)
• Women of Achievement Award, Women of Achievement, In Business Magazine (2020)