SALT LAKE CITY — After six years on the job, Utah Department of Health executive director and state commissioner of health Dr. David Sundwall announced his resignation Tuesday.

Sundwall, 69, who was appointed to lead the agency in January 2005, said he will be returning to teaching and hopes for a more active role at the University of Utah's School of Medicine in the division of public health. He has also agreed to help edit a public health textbook.

Sundwall's resignation will be effective later this month. He will stay long enough to help new appointees with the transition prior to the start of the legislative session that begins Jan. 24.

"These years have been the most challenging and the most rewarding of my long career in public policy and public health," Sundwall wrote in a letter of resignation sent to Gov. Gary Herbert.

Herbert publicly thanked Sundwall for his service, commending him for "his leadership on critical public health matters, such as the state's response to the H1N1 pandemic."

Sundwall claims he was not pressured to resign, despite recent findings and results of multiple legislative audits that revealed mismanagement of Medicaid funding within the department.

Sundwall began his tenure with the state during a time of increases in the state's public health budget. Shortly thereafter, the UDOH was faced with shortfalls in 2008, as state revenues continued to decline. At the same time, however, the Medicaid program began to experience unprecedented growth in expenses and enrollment, which brought added scrutiny.

Under Sundwall's leadership, however, the department continued to deliver positive outcomes, improving the health and well-being of residents.

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"We're immunizing more children than before, our smoking rates continue to decline, we have better systems in place to detect and prevent disease outbreaks, and people are finally paying attention to the epidemics of obesity and prescription drug overdose deaths," he said. "It has been the highlight of my career to serve two amazing governors, and alongside hundreds of public health practitioners who commit themselves on a daily basis to improving the lives of their fellow citizens."

Despite recent shortcomings cited within the Medicaid program, in the past six years, Sundwall has helped the UDOH earn national recognition in Health Information Technology, develop a statewide public health system distributed through 12 local health departments, deliver a mass vaccination program in response to the swine flu pandemic, construct a new Unified Public Health Laboratory building at the U., implement ongoing open enrollment in the Children's Health Insurance Program and reorganize from within to save taxpayers nearly $1 million in efficiencies.

Sundwall, a family practice physician by training, will maintain his position as vice chairman of the recently created federal Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress on public insurance program policies.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com