Former state health director to head Reynolds Trust

Laura Gerald

Former state health director to head Reynolds Trust
June 02
00:00 2016

Laura Gerald, a pediatrician and former state health director, will become the new president of Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in July. 

The trust is a statewide foundation that awards millions in grants annually to improve health and quality of life for the financially disadvantaged in North Carolina. In 2015, Trust President Karen McNeil Miller left and Allen Smart, vice president of program services, has been acting as interim president. Gerald said that she was drawn to the Trust partly because of its emphasis on helping rural communities and children.

“The match in my background and passions with the work that Kate B. Reynolds is doing is very compelling,” she said.

Gerald brings many years of experience to the position.  She’s from Lumberton, which is in a rural part of the state.

“I had a very supportive childhood, a very engaged and supportive family and community,” she said.

Her father died when she was young, leaving her mother – who was a teacher – to raise four children. She attended college at Harvard University, something she knew was possible because two of her brothers attended Harvard. She earned a degree in biology in 1990 and, along the way, discovered she wanted to be a doctor, so she then attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

During her pediatric residency, she was surprised to see Lumberton listed as an underserved area without enough doctors. So she returned to Lumberton in 1998 to join the clinic of her childhood pediatrician, who became her mentor. When he passed away, she took over the administrative duties at the clinic.

“Practicing medicine in Lumberton was  a wonderful experience,” she said. “Every patient was a cousin until genetically proven not to be a cousin.”

In 2002, she received a Master of Public Health from Harvard and became a senior medical consultant for Community Care of North Carolina, a primary care medical home program for Medicaid recipients. She developed statewide initiatives dealing with diseases like asthma.  She said it let her have a wider impact than she could by seeing one patient at a time.

“You could be far more impactful by working outside of the walls of the clinic and seeing what you can do to help the community at large,” she said.

In 2010, Gerald became executive director of the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund, which allocated some of the funds from the state’s share of the national tobacco settlement. It awarded $30 million in grants annually to programs that Gerald says have resulted in historically low rates of teen tobacco use in the state.

In 2011, she became senior advisor for Community Care of North Carolina under the Department of Health and Human Services. The next year, she was appointed to be state health director under Governor Beverly Purdue and Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler. She ran the Public Health Division, with an $800 million budget and 800 employees. She also worked with health directors across the state to improve health outcomes, particularly for underserved populations. She said it was challenging work, but that there were improvements in HIV/AIDS prevention and infant mortality during her time as director.

“When you’re trying to do work that helps the most challenged people, you’re always going to be working in a tough environment, in an uphill battle,” she said.

She resigned from the position in 2013, under the current administration. A copy of her resignation letter obtained by N.C. Policy Watch said she resigned because of significant differences and disagreements over policy and administrative directions in the Health and Human Services Department.

Gerald, a separated mother of two children, currently serves as the market medical director of Evolent Health in Raleigh.

“Dr. Gerald is an outstanding leader who is an expert in health care improvement, as well as a North Carolina native who understands firsthand the challenges facing rural areas,” said Beth Renner, who is senior vice president and national director of Philanthropic Services at Wells Fargo Bank, which is trustee of the foundation. “She has an outstanding statewide and national reputation for integrity and excellence, and we are honored to appoint her as the next president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.”

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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