Who is Donald Kauerauf, the new leader of Missouri’s state health department?

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Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday named Donald Kauerauf the next director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The announcement in a news conference came after the last director, Randall Williams, resigned earlier this year at Parson’s request.

DHSS manages a wide array of services, including managing aid programs for families and providing services for individuals with disabilities. But right now, it’s central role in Missouri’s response to COVID-19 has elevated the visibility of the agency and placed more attention on its top leadership.

Who is Donald Kauerauf?

Kauerauf, who will officially take over Sept. 1., comes from Illinois. He served as an assistant director at the Illinois Department of Public Health as assistant director before retiring in 2018.

Overall, he has more than 30 years of experience in public health and emergency management in Illinois, Parson said. He holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health from Illinois State University.

Why was he chosen?

Parson pointed to Kauerauf’s experience in announcing him on Wednesday. He also noted that during the pandemic, Kauerauf has chaired the Illinois Terrorism Task Force. The group is an advisory body to the Illinois governor.

Parson’s office also noted that while Kauerauf was with the Illinois Department of Public Health, he developed a statewide structure to improve communication between the department and local public health agencies. He also directed the development and implementation of the nation’s first statewide pandemic influenza exercise, the governor’s office said.

“It is obvious that he has a firm grasp on public health issues and the COVID-19 crisis, and we are confident in his ability to lead DHSS,” Parson said.

Why now?

Kauerauf takes over for Robert Knodell, Parson’s deputy chief of staff and an influential figure in the state’s vaccine rollout, who has been acting director. Like Knodell, Kauerauf also does not have a medical background.

Parson asked Williams to resign in April, in the middle of the state’s vaccine rollout. By that time, Williams had weathered a number of controversies, including a legal battle in 2019 over the administration’s refusal to renew the license of the only abortion facility in the state.

Williams testified during an administrative law hearing in the matter that his department, seeking to identify evidence of failed abortions, had kept a spreadsheet tracking patients’ menstrual cycles. It prompted national outrage and calls for him to resign.

The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting

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