RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) — Less than two years after leaving public health to become Bristol Regional Medical Center’s chief medical officer, Dr. Karen Shelton has been named Virginia’s new state health commissioner.

“Experience and leadership matter. Dr. Shelton brings a wealth of knowledge in patient care and is positioned to recognize the individualized needs of all Virginians,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a news release. “Dr. Shelton will be a tremendous asset to public health across the Commonwealth.”

Shelton led the Mount Rogers Health District for more than five years before taking the hospital job in August 2021. Her tenure in the district that covers Washington, Smyth, Grayson, Carroll, Wythe and Bland counties saw her department confront both the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Karen Shelton. (Ballad Health)

According to the release, the OB/GYN-trained physician focused on the opioid crisis, particularly on babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and navigating moms, as well as babies, into optimal care. During the COVID pandemic, Shelton eventually led not just the Mount Rogers district but also the Cumberland Plateau and Lenowisco health districts covering the far Southwest corner of the state.

Ballad Health worked closely with health departments during COVID-19 and its CEO, Alan Levine, told News Channel 11 Shelton “did an incredible job” during that period.

“She lead efforts to keep schools and businesses open, and she was a reliable partner for the region’s health care system,” Levine said. “Governor Youngkin could not have chosen a better leader for the Commonwealth’s health department.”

“As a healthcare provider, I look forward to helping Virginians lead healthier and happier lives with improved access to the right care for themselves and their families,” Shelton said in the release.

“As an OB/GYN, it was an honor to care for patients, their babies, and their families one-on-one. Moving into public health again, I hope to harness the trust my patients had in me and advance the mission of the Virginia Department of Health alongside dedicated healthcare professionals.”

John Littel, Virginia’s secretary of health and human services, said Shelton’s breadth of experience will help her lead in achieving Youngkin’s goals: “improving the health of all Virginians, enhancing maternal and children’s health and addressing the dual crises of behavioral health and fentanyl poisoning that affects communities across Virginia.”

Shelton graduated from Wake Forest University and earned her medical degree at the University of Virginia before completing a residency at Eastern Virginia Medical School.