Governor McKee Announces New Acting Director of the Department of Health and Transition Support Team

Governor Dan McKee today announced a leadership team to support the transition to the Rhode Island Department of Health as the search continues for a permanent director.

“Our administration has moved quickly to put in place an experienced leadership team at the Rhode Island Department of Health to ensure our response to COVID-19 remains strong,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “I thank Dr McDonald, Assistant Secretary Novais, Ernie Almonte and Chris Abhulime for stepping in and look forward to continuing to work with them during this transition. I also want to thank the career staff of the Department of Health who continue to do the work to ensure access to quality health care services for all Rhode Islanders.

The management team includes:

James McDonald, MD, MPH has served at RIDOH as Medical Director and as Administrative Director of the Council on Licensure and Medical Discipline since 2012. He has helped guide the state’s response to the drug overdose crisis, and he was a key member of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 leadership team. Prior to his time at RIDOH, Dr. McDonald served as Director of Health Services at Naval Health Clinic New England in Newport. He earned his MD from the Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, did his residency in pediatrics in the US Navy, and did his residency in preventive medicine at the State University of New York. He received his MPH from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. McDonald is board certified in pediatrics and preventive medicine. His diverse career includes serving as an officer in the United States Navy. He lives in North Kingstown with his wife and three children.

Dr. McDonald will assume the day-to-day responsibilities of Director of RIDOH while the search for a permanent candidate continues.

Ana Novais has over 35 years of experience in public health. She is currently Assistant Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Prior to that, she worked at RIDOH for several years as Deputy Director; Education and Awareness Coordinator focusing on children’s health issues; and as the Minority Health Coordinator, responsible for ensuring that the Department meets the health needs of racial and ethnic minority communities. During this time, she led efforts to achieve health equity focusing on health disparities and access to care, chronic disease management and prevention, environmental health, and maternal health and infantile; and she was responsible for implementing the department’s strategic priorities. Novais holds a degree in clinical psychology from UCLN, Belgium, and is a graduate of the Northeastern Public Health Leadership Institute at the University of Albany.

In this temporary assignment, Novais will provide day-to-day operational support to Dr. McDonald and the Department in areas such as policy, programming and legislative processes.

Ernie Almonte is currently Chief of Staff to Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos. Prior to that, he was a business, government and process improvement specialist with over 40 years of experience. He has provided technical assistance on accounting and financial reporting matters to corporations, as well as federal, state and local governments. He also served for 16 years as Auditor General of Rhode Island, where he was responsible for the financial, performance, and fraud audits of the State of Rhode Island. In this role, Almonte was responsible for the CAFR of $8 billion, auditing RI Lottery’s financial statements and IT controls, provided due diligence on casino mergers and compliance with state agreements, information on pensions and audits of quasi-public agencies and municipalities. He has held numerous positions as chair of audit committees, including the Pentagon’s Department of Defense Audit Advisory Committee, and as a member of the Government Auditing Standards Committee for the Comptroller General of United States.

In this temporary assignment, Almonte will provide support in managing departmental finances, budgeting and other fiscal operations.

Chris Abhulime, DVM, MS, PMHNP-BC is Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Dan McKee. He will serve as a liaison between the councilors and the Governor’s Office. He is an accomplished clinician/biopharmaceutical scientist with over 15 years of technical, operational and managerial experience in clinical immunology, diagnostic testing, regulated bioanalysis, quality assurance, assay validation, clinical trials and laboratory automation. He is a Certified/Registered Mental Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and previously served as a Research Laboratory Director at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He earned a Master of Science from Regis College, a Masters of Clinical Laboratory Science/Medical Technology from the University of Rhode Island, and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

In this temporary assignment, Abhulime will provide operational support to the Department.

“Rhode Islanders should feel extremely confident in the collective experience and knowledge of this team as we work diligently to find a new permanent director for RIDOH,” Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos said. “I am especially proud that my chief of staff has answered the call to serve our state in this vital new role. Ernie’s talents, qualifications and experience will certainly stand us in good stead as we battle this latest My office continues to do everything in our power to support Rhode Island’s COVID-19 response efforts.”

“I look forward to leading the Rhode Island Department of Health in this interim capacity as we continue the essential work of managing the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering the dozens of other vital public health services that Rhode Islanders matter,” said Dr. McDonald. “As a team, we will continue to work toward our goal of giving every Rhode Islander and every community an equal chance to be healthy and thrive.”

The Governor will continue to work with his team of health advisers to identify a permanent director of RIDOH.

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