Gov. Laura Kelly appoints new KDHE secretary after firing Lee Norman as Kansas' top doctor

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  • Norman Lee
    British film director and screenwriter (1898-1964)
  • Laura Kelly
    48th and current governor of Kansas
Gov. Laura Kelly stands back as Lee Norman, then-secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, speaks during a news conference at the Statehouse in March 2020. Norman left the governor's administration earlier this month and will be replaced by Janet Stanek.
Gov. Laura Kelly stands back as Lee Norman, then-secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, speaks during a news conference at the Statehouse in March 2020. Norman left the governor's administration earlier this month and will be replaced by Janet Stanek.

Gov. Laura Kelly has appointed Janet Stanek as the new secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, less than two weeks after firing Lee Norman.

Stanek will lead the agency as acting secretary while awaiting the Senate's confirmation process.

"As we move to this next phase of the pandemic, from emergency response to steady state, it was important that we find a Secretary to oversee both the state’s COVID response and the many other services performed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment," Kelly said in a Monday news release.

"With Janet’s decades of experience as well as the relationships she has built across the medical community in Kansas, I have no doubt that she will be able to step into this role immediately and continue the agency’s critical work."

Janet Stanek has history in health care leadership

Janet Stanek
Janet Stanek

Stanek most recently served as the director of the State Employee Health Benefits Program, a division of the Department of Administration.

She has spent more than three decades in health care leadership positions in Kansas, Pennsylvania and New York. Stanek is the chair of the Kansas Health Institute Board of Directors.

Her 21-year career at Stormont Vail Health in Topeka included a stint as chief operating officer and senior vice president, overseeing clinical and non-clinical departments. Her work involved rolling out a new electronic health records system and a focus on "population health, accountable care organization development and the transition to value-based care delivery," the governor's office said in a news release.

In a statement, Stanek said she is honored by the appointment.

"Since the start of the pandemic, the agency has done a remarkable job helping lead the state’s response to this once-in-a-century crisis," she said. "I look forward to working with the entire KDHE team to build on their outstanding work."

More: Lee Norman steps down from Gov. Laura Kelly's administration after leading KDHE through COVID pandemic

Stanek's appointment comes less than two weeks after Norman was forced out of the role.

Lee Norman criticized communication delays

"While leaving was not an easy decision," Norman said in a Nov. 19 statement, "I have no doubt that the leadership will maintain a seamless continuity of operations as the agency continues its transition from crisis response to steady state."

An open records request from the Capital-Journal for Norman's resignation letter hasn't yet been filled.

"I did not step down voluntarily," Norman told WIBW last week. "I was asked to step down."

More: Gov. Laura Kelly signs COVID-19 vaccine mandate bill into law, bucking legislative Democrats

Emails between Norman and Kelly's chief of staff, Will Lawrence, in June and July — first obtained by the Kansas Reflector — showed a growing rift between the state's top health officer and political officials. The governor's office was particularly concerned by Norman's tendency to provide information on the coronavirus pandemic to the public without getting prior approval.

"I think our communications to the public are often too late and incomplete for fear of political ramifications," Norman wrote in a June 11 email. He said when the administration says nothing publicly, less-reliable sources fill the gap with inaccurate information.

"I think we can and should do better in, in an anticipatory manner, providing public health guidance to the public," Norman wrote.

Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jtidd@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Tidd.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly appoints KDHE secretary after Lee Norman fired

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