As COVID-19 cases rise, Gov. Laura Kelly appoints new Kansas health secretary

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A former Kansas hospital executive and director of the health benefit program for state employees will take over the Department of Health and Environment as concerns rise over another wave of the COVID-19 virus.

Janet Stanek is the new acting secretary of KDHE, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday.

Stanek is former director of the Kansas State Employees Health Benefits Program. Prior to her state service, she spent 21 years at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka where she was chief operating officer and senior vice president.

“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,” Kelly said in a statement.

Stanek does not hold a medical degree but earned a graduate certificate in population health at Thomas Jefferson University and an masters in business administration at Alfred University in New York. She replaces Lee Norman, a physician and former chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

Stanek steps into the role as COVID-19 cases rise in Kansas and worries mount over the newly identified Omicron variant of the virus.

“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. I look forward to working with the entire KDHE team to build on their outstanding work,” Stanek said in a statement.

Stanek will start next week. Her appointment will be subject to Senate confirmation when the Legislature returns to Topeka in January.

Her appointment comes just over a week after Norman abruptly left the department.

Emails first reported on by the Kansas Reflector and obtained by The Star showed friction between Norman and the Kelly administration over how best to communicate with the public about the pandemic.

Kelly’s Chief of Staff, Will Lawrence, expressed concerns about Norman’s public appearances in emails to the secretary and directed him to stay in his lane and avoid speaking on policy matters.

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