“The Short History of the Pandemic Task Force, and the Current State of Vaccine”.
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Speaker: Alexander Garza, MD, MPH Updated 05January2021
Chief Community Health Officer
As Chief Community Health Officer for SSM Health, Dr. Garza’s work is “upstream” from the delivery of healthcare, focusing on the social determinants of health, equity and social justice. In this position, Dr. Garza works with local, regional and national organizations advocating to improve the lives of the community, leading to healthier outcomes overall. He is also currently serving as the Task Force Commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. The Task Force is comprised of the major healthcare providers in the St. Louis Metropolitan area that joined together to combat COVID-19.
Prior to these positions, Dr. Garza served as the Chief Medical Officer for SSM Health. In this position, Dr. Garza oversaw the delivery of quality medical care across the entire SSM Health system including ambulatory, acute, and post-acute care. During his tenure as CMO, he built the safety and quality system, a system wide regulatory and infection prevention team, and established the advanced analytics team for SSM. Dr. Garza has also served as the Chief Quality Officer for SSM, and as the Chief Medical Officer for the St. Louis Regional of SSM.
Dr. Garza joined SSM Health in September 2016 from St. Louis University where he was associate dean for public health practice, and associate professor of epidemiology at the College for Public Health and Social Justice as well as associate professor in Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine.
Prior to moving back home to St. Louis, Dr. Garza was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the US Senate as the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he served from 2009 – 2013. In this position Dr. Garza was the medical authority for DHS and chief medical advisor to the Secretary of DHS as well as FEMA. Dr. Garza led the health and security efforts for DHS, including the health aspects of terrorism and natural disasters including the H1N1 Pandemic, the Haitian Earthquake and Fukishima Nuclear Disaster.
Dr. Garza began his career in health as an EMT in 1986 and has worked at every level of providing care and leadership in emergency medicine and healthcare. He has worked as a paramedic and flight medic and is a board-certified emergency physician. Dr. Garza previously served as the Medical Director for Emergency Medical Services for the City of Kansas City, Missouri Health Department and the State of New Mexico. He is a Colonel in the US Army Reserves with over 20 years of service, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He has researched, written and lectured extensively on issues involving EMS, health, security, preparedness and the impact of Social Determinants of Health on disasters. Dr. Garza has received numerous awards for his military service and civilian career including the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge. He was awarded the Young Investigator Award by the American Heart Association for his research on cardiac arrest.
He and his wife Melissa enjoy spending time with their three boys doing swimming and baseball.