For his steadfast and sound public health leadership during COVID-19, as well as for his long and distinguished career in public service prior to the pandemic, Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), has been honored with the Texas Hospital Association’s THA Trustee Award. The award is THA’s highest honor given to someone not directly involved in hospital management. It recognizes significant contributions and outstanding leadership in the health care industry.
From the pandemic’s onset, Dr. Hellerstedt demonstrated exemplary leadership, overseeing the state staffing program that placed more than 26,000 clinical staff in hospitals, keeping an open ear to hospitals day and night, and following trends of the disease while advocating for both patients’ and hospitals’ needs. During industry-wide calls to address the pandemic, Dr. Hellerstedt made sure the needs of hospitals were amplified as the state public health team worked to respond.
“State staffing was critical for us keeping the doors open for patients. The pandemic proved that public health and hospitals have to be in lockstep, whether for rolling out vaccines, monitoring capacity or staying equipped with therapeutics. Dr. Hellerstedt brought a steady hand to the fight, and helped keep our hospitals and health care systems – and our state – afloat during the worst days of the worst public health crisis in our lifetimes,” said THA President/CEO John Hawkins. “Texas is stronger and more prepared for the next major disease threat because of the state’s close collaboration with hospitals.”
Dr. Hellerstedt has led by example during the pandemic as well, wearing a mask and becoming one of the first Texans to become vaccinated against COVID-19. The earliest days of Dr. Hellerstedt’s tenure at DSHS also included leading the agency through the Zika virus scare of 2016.
His public service career began in 2000 when he became medical director of the Bureau of Medicaid Managed Care and CHIP at DSHS, then known as the Texas Department of Health. In 2001, he moved to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to become medical director for the Medicaid CHIP Division. His other roles include vice president of medical affairs for Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas starting in 2007; associate chief medical office at Seton Family of Hospitals beginning in 2009; and Seton’s chief medical officer starting in 2013.