Governor Mike Parson on Wednesday called on Donald G. Kauerauf to lead the Missouri Department of Health and Seniors’ Services as he responds to an increase in COVID-19 statewide.
Kauerauf, who will take over the agency on September 1, is a former deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. He will be tasked with transforming DHSS and leading it after the controversial tenure of its latest leader, Randall Williams, who abruptly stepped down at Parson’s behest earlier this year.
“Don is no stranger to state government and has over 30 years of public health and emergency management experience in the state of Illinois,” Parson said. “It is evident that he has a perfect command of public health issues and the COVID-19 crisis, and we are confident in his ability to lead DHSS. “
Kauerauf has no medical training, Parson said in June that he hoped to find a health director. The governor told reporters last month that he would also consider hiring a director with strong administrative background and bringing in a deputy director with medical expertise instead.
Parson’s spokesperson could not be immediately reached to see if a deputy manager was still being considered.
During the pandemic, Kauerauf chaired the Illinois Terrorism Task Force after retiring from the Illinois Department of Public Health in 2018. He holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health from Illinois State University.
He said his experience in emergency management fitted well with his role and expected a “smooth transition” from Illinois, which Kauerauf says has similar population programs and health services.
“Public health today requires someone to be able to make quick decisions,” he said.
He succeeds Robert Knodell, Parson’s deputy chief of staff and influential figure in the state’s vaccine deployment, who served as interim director. Knodell also has no medical training.
Parson asked Williams to step down in April, amid the vaccine rollout in the state. By this time, Williams had overcome a number of controversies, including a legal battle in 2019 over the administration’s refusal to renew the license of the state’s only abortion center.
Williams testified at an administrative law hearing in the case that her department, seeking to identify evidence of failed abortions, kept a spreadsheet tracing the patients’ menstrual cycles. This sparked national outrage and called on him to resign.
“People need to be vaccinated”
Kauerauf said he wanted DHSS to work with local health departments to strengthen preventative care and consider scouring the state to focus on “social determinants of health,” the environmental or economic factors that play a role. role in risk of disease or life expectancy.
“We need to get citizens to resume regular screenings,” he said. “We need to get citizens to take advantage of these programs and services that they have forgotten or were unable to participate in due to the COVID event. “
Most recently, Kauerauf was a political advisor to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, a state that has taken more aggressive steps to mitigate the pandemic than Missouri. But at a press conference in which Parson also announced a vaccine incentive lottery program amid an increase in COVID among the unvaccinated, Kauerauf said Missouri had “done a great job. following CDC guidelines “.
“It all comes down to the fact that people have to get vaccinated,” he said. “That’s a clear answer… Missouri has followed the CDC’s playbook. And my job is to come in and build on that. “