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Richard Carmona will extend stay as a top Arizona health official under $400-an-hour contract

The governor had hired former surgeon general through December after director Cara Christ left DHS in August. Invoices show Carmona has been paid more than $35,000.

PHOENIX — Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona will be extending his $400-an-hour contract as Arizona's chief medical officer, possibly through the end of Gov. Doug Ducey's term next year, 12 News has learned.

The state has paid Carmona more than $35,000 for the equivalent of two full weeks of work since his hiring in August, according to public records obtained by 12 News.

In response to an inquiry by 12 News, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed that Carmona would remain under contract with DHS beyond the initial Dec. 31 end date for the contract and perhaps through 2022.

"I will stay for the duration, as long as my presence brings value," Carmona said, through DHS spokesman Steve Elliott.

Ducey's term in office ends at the beginning of 2023.

Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin credited Carmona with advocating for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

"Since the contract was signed, 2 million doses have been administered," Karamargin said. "He has proven to be a real MVP in terms of getting the word out."

The state has administered 9.4 million doses since the COVID vaccine's rollout on Dec. 1, 2020. 

One year later, 54% of all Arizonans are fully vaccinated. Nationally, 61% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the pandemic's start, Arizona has the fifth-highest per-capita death rate from COVID in the United States, according to New York Times data. Over the last seven days, Arizona's death rate is third-highest in the country.

Carmona was brought on board in August when Dr. Cara Christ resigned after six years on the job. Christ and Ducey had steered the state through the pandemic.

Ducey named Don Herrington, a career manager at DHS, as the new director.

 Carmona, with decades of experience as a doctor, teacher, and health care executive, was hired under a temporary services contract as Ducey's senior adviser for COVID policy.

Carmona's contract, obtained by 12 News, gives him the title of "chief medical officer."

Carmona made it clear early in his tenure that he wouldn't butt heads with Ducey over the governor's opposition to mandates that might protect Arizonans.

"Politics is not my issue," he said.

In a May op-ed piece for the Arizona Republic, Carmona praised Ducey for his "steadiness during the pandemic." 

Carmona and public health officials statewide are now grappling with a looming hospital bed shortage, as unvaccinated COVID-19 patients crowd other ill patients out of intensive care units. 

A top medical officer at Banner Health, the state's largest hospital network, has warned that its hospitals might have to cut back on care in mid-January, as patient counts hit their highest level of the almost 2-year-old pandemic.

Carmona has said he's been meeting with hospital officials from around the state to try to head off the looming crisis.

Under his temporary services contract with the state, Carmona was paid $35,200 for a total of 88 hours of work - slightly more than two full workweeks - in the 10 weeks after his hiring at the end of August. 

DHS provided Carmona's invoices through Nov. 7 - the most recent data available - and his contract in response to a public record request by 12 News. 

The contract says Carmona was expected to work no more than 15 hours a week. 

Carmona was hired through a company called Knowledge Services, an Indianapolis-based firm that has a temporary services contract with the state. 

When Knowledge Services' fee is included, DHS has paid $42,768 for Carmona's services.

Carmona served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush, from 2002 through 2006. He wasn't kept on for a second four-year term after clashing with  Bush staffers over the dangers of second-hand smoke. Carmona released a landmark report on the health effects of secondhand smoke 

Carmona is chief of health innovation at Tucson-based Canyon Ranch, an operator of "wellness resorts." Over the last year, he has advised the University of Arizona on its COVID response.

He also sits on several corporate boards of directors.

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