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Gateley picked as area acting health director

Dr. Laura Gateley has joined the Virginia Department of Health to serve as the acting director for Southside and Pittsylvania/Danville area, according to the department. The district includes Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties. Jeffrey Lake, who oversees the health districts and the directors for the department, said this week that, “Dr. (Charles) Devine (now former Southside director) successfully competed for the position of district health director for the Lord Fairfax (Winchester) Health District and began his new position effective Oct. 27, 2010.”

Lake said Gateley agreed to fill the position in the interim.

She said Thursday that she would fill the position for as long as needed for the district to locate a replacement for Devine.

“We are actively recruiting for the permanent director for Southside and Pittsylvania/Danville,” Lake said.

Gateley has extensive experience in private practice in Tennessee and West Virginia as medical director and clinician for a federally qualified health center, and experience as a local health director in West Virginia.

“I live in Forest (Bedford County), which is why I took this only as ‘acting directorship,” she said. “I think it would only be fair that the director live in Southside. I told them conditionally I will take it as acting director, and you continue to look, and if the opening is still there when I am firmly in the position in two to three years, then we will talk about being permanent director.”

Gateley noted at this time it is not feasible for her family to move to the area.

She said filling “a need” seems to be something she specializes in.

She explained her husband, Dr. Kerry Gateley, is the regional director for Central Virginia.

She has not ruled out staying on in the position, but she said making the decision to stay is not something she can do at this point.

When her husband moved to his position in Virginia, she filled his position in West Virginia in the interim.

She said the couple met in medical school and are dedicated to the health and wellness of communities.

Gateley said she is working with the Southside Virginia Health Coalition to collect data and create statistics on premature births, teen pregnancy, infant mortality rates and other health issues.

In regards to a recent report from the Virginia Department of Health, where State Health Commissioner Karen Remley announced a decline in premature births and teen pregnancies, Gateley said the Coalitions Executive Director Dr. Naja Eldanaf is not as “optimistic” as Remley.

The report noted in the last five years that 1,085 more babies in the commonwealth were carried to term and that the teen pregnancy rate was decreased by 22 percent between 2000 and 2009.

“The statistics do not show that the rates have changed as much here locally as they have statewide,” Gateley said. “But any improvement has got to be seen as a good sign. It is just that the Southside area has not seen the improvement. It is a good sign that it has improved, but it has not improved in rural areas where there are less resources. Places with more resources have had more improvement.

“Part of our job is to look for those resources and seek improvement.

“The patient is the community and not a single person. I am figuring out who the community is and learning the area. It is a learning process,” Gateley said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story was written by Lisa Andrews and is reprinted with permission from the South Hill Enterprise.)