NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Dr. Lisa Piercey is leaving her role as Tennessee’s health commissioner effective May 31 to enter the private sector.

Piercey, who earned her medical degree from East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, became the state’s youngest health commissioner ever when she took the job in January 2019, according to a Tennessee Department of Health news release. When she leaves she’ll have spent the majority of her tenure leading the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am deeply grateful for the privilege of serving Governor Lee and Tennesseans for the last three and a half years, particularly through the enormous challenges posed by the pandemic,” Piercey is quoted as saying in the news release.

Dr. Lisa Piercey is leaving her post as Tennessee health commissioner May 31. (Tennessee Department of Health photo)

“I have seen firsthand the unparalleled dedication of our public health workforce, and I am confident that they will continue driving positive health outcomes for Tennessee.”

Piercey, a board-certified pediatrician, was an executive vice president for West Tennessee Healthcare prior to being tapped to replace Dr. John Dreyzehner when Gov. Bill Lee took office. The Jackson-based not-for-profit system serves 22 mainly rural counties.

The TDH Commissioner also plays an important role in the oversight of the “certificate of public advantage,” or COPA, that governs Ballad Health’s operations in Tennessee. The COPA was granted in 2018 and allowed for the merger of Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance to form Ballad Health.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) representatives spoke against the merger prior to its approval, saying it amounted to a monopoly. Without creation and passage of a COPA, the agency could have taken official action to oppose it, but the COPA provided “immunity” from such action. Oversight of the COPA and its “terms of certification” is meant to mitigate the effects of the decreased competition enough so the new merged entity serves health care consumers needs better than the previous situation did.

Ballad CEO told News Channel 11 Piercey “served during a consequential and difficult time to be in a public health leadership role.”

He said Piercey, along with her family, have earned Tennesseans’ gratitude for sacrifice and her “capable stewardship” of TDH.

“She can definitely look back upon her tenure with pride, as she was a steady and competent leader for the health care community during some very challenging times,” Levine said.

The TDH news release says Piercey will “transition into the health care investment sector.” It adds that her broad background in clinical medicine, health system operations and now public policy “will offer a unique perspective to help accelerate the growth and innovation of health care companies.”

Piercey hadn’t been in office 15 months when the COVID-19 pandemic turned TDH and other public health agencies upside down. Her tenure during COVID hasn’t been without some controversy, and Tennessee has posted one of the highest COVID death rates per capita and one of the lowest COVID vaccination rates in the United States.

Piercey’s handling of the pandemic, some of which has been executed under constraints set by state legislative action including a COVID bill passed in special session last October, has drawn both praise and criticism with much of the difference falling along political lines.

The state’s COVID death rate currently sits at 382 deaths per 100,000 population, which is the nation’s fourth-highest state rate behind Mississippi (417), Arizona (410) and Alabama (398). The U.S. rate is 298.

Tennessee has the country’s seventh-lowest percentage of fully vaccinated people, at 54.5%. The U.S. average is 66.1%.

The news release doesn’t mention a search for a successor or whether an interim commissioner will be appointed.