SALT LAKE CITY — A two-year employee of the Utah Department of Health has been named as its new director.

W. David Patton was appointed to the position by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday. However, the state Senate must also confirm the appointment before Patton can get to work. That could take place as soon as Friday, when lawmakers meet in a special session.

Patton, who has worked as the department's chief operating officer since 2009, has been serving as the interim executive director for the past three months, following the January resignation of Dr. David Sundwall.

After five years on the job, Sundwall recently came under fire when multiple reports revealed mismanagement of state Medicaid funds. Growth in the number of beneficiaries at the same time funding is already stretched within the program has resulted in a need for change.

"On top of its day-to-day duties of protecting the health and well-being of our citizens, the health department faces significant challenges in Medicaid growth and implementing health reform efforts," Herbert said, adding that he is confident that "Patton's strong background in public policy and his keen leadership abilities make him the right person to successfully lead the department into the future."

Patton has degrees in economics and political science, as well as a master's degree in public administration from BYU and a doctorate from the University of Utah. He has worked both in the private sector and in state and local government.

Upon Senate approval, Patton will assume responsibility of the state health department and will direct Utah's statewide health programs, including dispersal of information pertinent to hazardous conditions and possible outbreaks.

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"I look forward to engaging local health departments, community partners and the dedicated professionals at the Utah Department of Health to help make Utahns the healthiest they can be," he said. Patton said he recognizes "there is a lot of work to make Utah the healthiest state in the nation."

Prior to joining the UDOH in 2009, Patton served as director of the U.'s Center for Public Policy and Administration, led former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s second gubernatorial transition team and was the first executive director of the Utah Policy Partnership — the governor's policy and governance advisory group.