PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee has appointed Dr. Utpala Bandy, a veteran state epidemiologist, to serve as interim director of the R.I. Department of Health.

The announcement made Thursday comes as the current interim health director, Dr. James McDonald, is slated to resign next month.

“Dr. Bandy has vast experience as a public health leader and infectious disease epidemiologist in Rhode Island. She has been at the center of our state’s COVID-19 response and dozens of other major public health initiatives over the last three decades,” McKee said in a statement.

Bandy currently serves in the department’s Division of Preparedness, Response, Infectious Disease and Emergency Medical Services, which played a key role in the state’s response efforts to the coronavirus pandemic. She has also worked closely on other public health issues, include HIV, H1N1 and meningitis. The latter caused a stir in 1998 when a bacterial meningitis outbreak resulted in the death of several Rhode Island children. Bandy served as state director of disease control at the time.

“Rhode Island has one of the best public health workforces in the country, thanks to the talented professionals at RIDOH and the community partnerships that we have developed over the years,” Bandy said in a statement. “I look forward to partnering with Governor McKee and his team to support the crucial work happening throughout the Department to promote healthy living in every community throughout the state.”

Bandy joined the Health Department in 1993, and she is expected to serve as interim director until the state can find a permanent replacement. The nationwide search for a new leader for the vital state department so far has proven unsuccessful, as the McKee administration first launched the hiring effort after the former health director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott left in January.

McDonald, who has served in the interim since Alexander-Scott’s exit, announced earlier this month he would be leaving Rhode Island state government to move closer to family in New York. He is taking vacation starting next week until his end date on July 29.

Bandy will assume her new role beginning June 26.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.