Mary E. O’Dowd has been serving as the New Jersey Health Commissioner since April 2011. As Commissioner, she oversees a staff of more than 1,200 and a budget of $1.9 billion. Commissioner O’Dowd is entrusted by Governor Christie to protect the public’s health, promote healthy communities and continue to improve the quality of health care in New Jersey.
The Commissioner has focused on three priority areas: building healthier communities, raising awareness about end-of-life care planning and working smarter.
She has worked to ensure residents have access to health care to lead healthier lives. Under O’Dowd’s leadership, the Department has invested funding to support the health care safety net—more than $1 billion is provided each year to New Jersey hospitals and the state’s Federally Qualified Health Centers to care for the uninsured and underinsured.
Recognizing the importance of giving children a healthy start in life, Commissioner O’Dowd has led an expansion of the Newborn Screening program and an initiative to increase breastfeeding rates in New Jersey. Under her leadership, New Jersey was the first state to implement pulse oximetry screening to improve early detection of critical congenital heart defects. Additionally, she expanded newborn testing from 54 to 60 genetic and metabolic disorders. To increase breastfeeding rates, the Department has supported maternity hospitals to implement the Baby Friendly Hospitals Initiative, a World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) program that encourages and recognizes hospitals that promote and support breastfeeding. Four New Jersey hospitals have achieved this designation since the initiative began and several more have made significant improvements.
During her time as Commissioner, O’Dowd has worked to generate greater discussion around end-of-life care planning. She has convened roundtable discussions with health providers, authored articles and visited facilities to raise awareness around this issue. In collaboration with the New Jersey Hospital Association, O’Dowd implemented the Practitioner Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment—or POLST form. This form empowers individuals to work with their physician or advance practice nurse to document preferences for medical care at the end of life.
In the area of working smarter through creative partnerships, the Commissioner has worked to achieve measurable results in promoting organ, tissue and blood donations in the state. By collaborating closely with advocates and the Motor Vehicle Commission to increase the number of registered organ donors—there has been a 13 percent increase statewide. Through a partnership with some of the state’s leading corporations, as co-chair of the Workplace Blood Donor Coalition, Commissioner O’Dowd is working to reduce the state’s chronic blood shortage. A targeted 2012 summer campaign resulted in an 11 percent increase in units of blood collected. To build on this success, the Department has partnered with the 2014 New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee to conduct a campaign called the Super Community Blood Drive.
As Commissioner, she led the Department’s response and recovery efforts to Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy—working closely with healthcare facilities, emergency responders and public health partners before, during, and after the storms to ensure they had the resources needed to care for residents.
During her time at the Department, she coordinated the state’s response to the emergence of a novel flu virus and worked closely with the state’s healthcare leaders and local public health officials to control the spread of H1N1 and support a successful vaccination program across the New Jersey.
The Commissioner has received numerous awards for her efforts to improve health outcomes in the state. The March of Dimes presented Commissioner O’Dowd with the FDR visionary award for outstanding leadership and support of the March of Dimes and its mission. O’Dowd was honored by the AARP for promoting high quality health care and programs that support independence, dignity and choice for all seniors. The New Jersey Primary Care Association has recognized her leadership in women’s health care and as a champion for community health centers. New Jersey YMCA Alliance presented Commissioner O’Dowd with the “Spirit of the YMCA” award for her efforts on the Department’s Shaping NJ initiative, which is the State Partnership for Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention. O’Dowd is routinely ranked as one of NJ Biz’s most powerful people in New Jersey Health Care.
Prior to becoming Commissioner, she served as Deputy Commissioner for a year and as Chief of Staff for two years. Before joining the Department, Ms. O’Dowd managed Revenue Cycle Operations for the Emergency Department at NYU Medical Center. Additionally, she worked as a Legislative Aide for the NJ General Assembly on education and healthcare issues, and as Assistant Vice President of Legislation and Policy with the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Commissioner O’Dowd is a graduate of Douglass College, Rutgers University, holds a Master in Public Health from Columbia University and completed a fellowship in hospital finance at NYU Medical Center. She currently serves on the board for the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers University.
Department of Health
Mary E. O'Dowd, M.P.H.
Commissioner of NJDOH
|Department of Health
P. O. Box 360, Trenton, NJ 08625-0360
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