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Physician, former DHHR Secretary Michael Lewis dies

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Michael Lewis, former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, died Friday at Hubbard Hospice House in Charleston. He was 70.

Thom Stevens, a friend of Lewis' for more than 30 years and the president of Government Relations Specialists, said Lewis touched the lives of many of his patients, colleagues and friends through his work as a family physician and leader in the medical field.

"He was the epitome of a family physician who placed quality of care for his patients as his top priority," Stevens said. "As a leader in health care, he excelled in policy."

Lewis served as former board member of West Virginia University Hospitals, chairman of the department of family medicine and associate vice president for the WVU School of Medicine, former graduate director at Charleston Area Medical Center and former vice chancellor for health sciences at the Higher Education Policy Commission. Lewis was vice chancellor for heart, dental and public health programs at East Carolina University before returning to his home state to head the DHHR.

"Throughout his career, he was a kind, compassionate health-care advocate who dedicated his life to the health of all West Virginians," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said.

Lewis, a Raleigh County native, was the first Cabinet appointment made by Tomblin, and served in the position for 18 months before stepping down in June 2012 for medical reasons.

"My life has come full circle, from the chronically-ill child raised in southern West Virginia in need of health care to heading the department responsible for delivery of the same," Lewis wrote in his letter of resignation to Tomblin. "Serving West Virginia has been the greatest honor of my life."

Lewis spent the first few months of his tenure as Cabinet secretary visiting local DHHR offices across the state, and he had planned a 10-point plan of action to address West Virginia's major heath concerns, according to Stevens.

"We have diabetes, heart disease and breathing problems. We're overweight, have bad teeth, too many of our babies die, and we smoke and chew way too much, and, not surprisingly, we're depressed," Lewis told lawmakers in December 2010.

Lewis worked to implement a best-practices health-care management system for Medicaid, and endorsed preventive health services, patient-centered medical homes and insurance exchanges. Lewis also worked toward developing a "safety net" for the state's teaching hospitals, as well as to maximize federal financial assistance resources, Stevens said.

"He was a primary-care physician with a tremendous amount of experience with policy. He had the vision, from a medical perspective, of what was needed at the DHHR," he said.

Rocco Fucillo was appointed to the position of interim secretary following Lewis' resignation, and Tomblin chose Karen Bowling, a former nurse practitioner and health-care administrator, to serve as the DHHR secretary in May.

Lewis is survived by his wife, Mino, and daughters Beth and Tana. A memorial service for Lewis will take place Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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