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Thursday, March 30, 2023
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Gov. Evers appoints former Milwaukee health commissioner Kirsten Johnson to lead DHS

Johnson, who has two decades of public health experience, starts her position as the Department of Health Services secretary on Feb. 27.

Gov. Tony Evers appointed former Milwaukee health commissioner Kirsten Johnson as the next head of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) on Monday. 

Johnson will replace former DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake, who retired last December.

“I have no doubt that her wealth of experience in public health, as well as her commitment to reducing disparities in health so every Wisconsinite can live their best and fullest life, will serve the department and our state well,” Evers said in a press release announcing Johnson’s appointment.

During her time as Milwaukee’s health commissioner, Johnson led a multi-county pandemic response, which included operating city-run testing sites and enforcing mask mandates.

“Over the past 20 years of my career in public health, I have worked to address the challenges and health disparities facing Wisconsin’s rural, urban and suburban communities alike — disparities that were laid bare by the pandemic,” Johnson said in a statement Monday. 

She also worked to address Milwaukee’s lead crisis by allocating a portion of the city’s federal pandemic aid towards its lead poisoning prevention program, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Prior to her role as Milwaukee health commissioner, Johnson served as program manager for the Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute, which is funded by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Wisconsin Partnership Program. Johnson worked alongside 600 public health professionals on leadership and community partnerships as program manager, according to the Big Cities Health Coalition.

The Wisconsin Partnership Program approaches improving health equity and quality in Wisconsin through research, education and community partnerships, according to its website. The program has supported projects in all 72 Wisconsin counties and awarded 548 partnership grants to organizations like the Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute. 

Johnson also previously served as health policy advisor for former U.S. Rep. Ron Kind from 2018 to 2019, where she worked on bills to address health inequities, increase Medicare access for organ donors and recipients, and stabilize the Affordable Care Act, according to the Big Cities Health Coalition

Johnson, whose interest in public health emerged during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, expressed her eagerness to delve into her new role as DHS secretary in Monday’s press release. 

“I am excited and honored to join Gov. Evers’ administration to lead DHS, where I look forward to using my expertise and knowledge to continue this important work,” she said. 

Johnson will start her new role on Feb. 27.

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