Besser to Lead Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Feb. 14, 2017
Richard Besser, M.D., former acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ABC News’ current chief health and medical editor, has been named president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Richard Besser, M.D., former acting director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ABC News’ current chief health and medical editor, has been named president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest charitable foundation devoted exclusively to health and health care.

Dr. Besser will succeed Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., who has led the $10 billion foundation for the last 14 years. During her tenure, the foundation has focused its programmatic efforts on topics such as reducing childhood obesity, promoting health equity, expanding health coverage, and building a Culture of Health in America.

A Culture of Health—as championed by the foundation—envisions everyone in America having the opportunity to live the healthiest lives they can, regardless of their financial situation, geographic location, job or background. It has funded research and pilot efforts to bring together social determinants of health including access to healthy food, safe housing, transportation, education and jobs.

“It is truly an honor to be selected to lead RWJF, a foundation so deeply committed to building a Culture of Health in this country,” said Dr. Besser, in a prepared statement. “Working to improve the health and well-being of all Americans is a high calling. Doing it here, with an organization of such stature and credibility will be a great honor and privilege.”   

Dr. Besser came to ABC News from the CDC where he served as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. In that role he was responsible for all the CDC's public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities. He also served as acting director for the CDC from January to June 2009, during which time he led the CDC's response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

He began his career at the CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service working on the epidemiology of food-borne diseases. He served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego as the pediatric residency director, while also doing research and working for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to the CDC in 1998 as an infectious disease epidemiologist working on pneumonia, antibiotic resistance and the control of antibiotic overuse.

He volunteers as a pediatrician with the Children's Aid Society in New York City, and he is currently a Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

There will be a period of transition during which time Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey will remain President and CEO of the foundation. The exact date of the handoff is expected to be in April.

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