Fil-Am named to top Virginia health post

Posted at 01/15/2013 9:19 AM | Updated as of 01/15/2013 6:03 PM

Cynthia Romero, M.D. Photo Courtesy of Tidewater Physicians Multispecialty Group website

RICHMOND, Virginia - First generation Filipino American physician Cynthia Romero, named to be Virginia’s new State Health Commissioner, is facing tough challenges that could help define the future of health care – especially for women – in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s announcement elated Tidewater Fil-Ams, especially the large Filipino medical community in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area where Dr. Romero was very active.

She is the daughter of Dr. Aleli Romero, a well-known and respected physician in the region and former president of the Tidewater Academy of Family Physicians.

“We are very proud of your achievements and support your endeavors,” assured Dr. Juan Montero of Virginia Beach.

“Baby Doc” as the new State Health Commissioner is sometimes called in the area (to distinguish her from “Mommy Doc” as her mother is also sometimes called), was the first ever female chief medical officer at the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and former president of the Medical Society of Virginia (2010-2011) and the Norfolk Academy of Medicine.

Dr. Romero, 45, helps run a flourishing private practice together with her mother (her father Chris works as the clinic’s administrator) – and together they have demonstrated a passion for public service, leading medical missions for indigent migrant workers in Maryland’s Eastern Shore and other places.

But she takes over the top health post at a very challenging time. She replaced Dr. Karen Remley who resigned last October in the wake of new abortion clinic regulations that she believed jeopardized her ability to fulfill her duties.

Those regulations are currently undergoing a 60-day public comment period; the results will be returned to the Board of Health in spring.

The Board voted last Sept. 14 to adopt regulations that require 20 abortion clinics in Virginia to be regulated like new hospitals. In taking that action, the Board reversed a decision in June when officers voted to exempt existing clinics.

The panel reversed itself after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli refused to certify that version of the new rules, saying the board did not have the authority to provide the exemption.

The move was hailed by anti-abortion advocates. On the other hand, abortion rights advocates said the new rules were a thinly veiled attempt to curtail access to abortion services by imposing construction costs on clinics that would force many to close.

“I want to continue the good work the agency has been achieving during the past years under the leadership of Dr. Remley and take the opportunity to promote the health of all Virginians,” Dr. Romero said.

She will delve into the topic of the controversial abortion clinic regulations, she assured, including the board's previous exemption. “There’s detail there that I need to get a better handle on. I want to study all sides, that’s part of the due diligence that I need to do,” she told the Virginian-Pilot.

Cianti Stewart-Reid, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said in a statement that “we are hopeful Dr. Romero will follow Dr. Remley’s lead by putting women’s health above politics in her new role as health commissioner. We look forward to working with her.”

“It’s good to have someone who has both hospital experience as well as private practice to maintain bridges between the two,” chimed Dr. Nancy Welch, public health director in Chesapeake.

Dr, Romero received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Virginia, and her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School, where she is an assistant professor of family and community medicine.