DC mayor taps former San Francisco health official to lead health department

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser named two new additions to her cabinet Thursday, selecting new leadership for the city’s health department and youth rehabilitation agency.

Bowser named Dr. Ayanna Bennett as the new acting director of the D.C. Department of Health. She will take over for interim director Dr. Sharon Lewis on July 17. Lewis had been filling in after Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt left the agency last July.

Bennett most recently worked for the city of San Francisco, where she served as the chief health equity officer and director of the city’s Public Health’s Office of Health Equity. She had been with the San Francisco Department of Public Health since 2016, working on combining multiple efforts across the agency as the director of Interdivisional Initiatives.

Her work at the San Francisco department included initiatives that aimed to address long-standing health inequities and disparities of the city’s African American population.

Bennett will join the D.C. agency as it continues to recover from the effects of COVID-19 and as it continues to roll out a pilot program to provide District residents with access to naloxone (Narcan), among other ongoing initiatives.

Bowser also tapped Sam Abed to lead the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, D.C.’s juvenile justice agency.

Abed was most recently the secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services from 2011 to 2023, managing and operating Maryland’s juvenile justice system across 11 youth centers around the state.

Abed also chaired the Maryland Juvenile Justice Reform Council, where he worked on limiting factors that led to youths ending up in the justice system. He also served at the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice as the Chief Deputy Director of Operations from 2006 to 2010.

As of July 2022, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services was responsible for 51 total people in its youth services center, and 20 total people in its shelter home care.

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David Andrews

No stranger to local news, David Andrews has contributed to DCist, Greater Greater Washington and was fellow at Washingtonian Magazine. He worked as a photo/videographer for University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

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