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Donald Kauerauf chosen to lead Missouri’s health department

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Donald Kauerauf, the former assistant director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, has been chosen to lead Missouri’s health department

Gov. Mike Parson formally named Kauerauf as the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) director Wednesday, 92 days after Dr. Randall Williams resigned. He has a long career in public health and safety in Illinois and will take over DHSS on Sept. 1. 

Kauerauf most recently chaired the Illinois Terrorism Task Force under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency after working for Western Illinois University as the public health and safety intelligence officer. 

“I believe my qualifications will well serve Missouri,” Kauerauf said. “Today’s public health requires someone to be able to make quick decisions, be able to weigh all the options, and be able to arrive at a decision to protect the public’s health. Some of the core values of emergency management and public health are the ability to communicate, coordinate, and collaborate. As we have seen during the COVID outbreak, these are core values you must be able to attain.”
Donald Kauerauf will take over as the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) on Sept. 1. (PROVIDED/GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

As the assistant director of the Illinois health department, Kauerauf oversaw more than 1,000 employees in Chicago and Springfield, seven regional offices, and three laboratories, according to his resume. He also established a public health leadership program within the office. 

Kauerauf serves on the executive board of the Illinois Public Health Association. He also served on the executive board of the Lincoln Land Down Syndrome Society. He’s led the Bureau of Preparedness and Grants Administration for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and served as the chief of the health department’s Division of Disaster Planning and Readiness. 

In Illinois, Kauerauf oversaw the development and implementation of the country’s first statewide pandemic influenza exercise and authored the state’s Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan. 

He also led former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. 

“We are excited to welcome Don to Missouri and look forward to the great work he is sure to accomplish in service to all Missourians,” Parson said. “Don is no stranger to state government and has more than 30 years of experience in public health and emergency management with the state of Illinois. 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.”

Robert Knodell has been serving as the acting DHSS director since Williams resigned in April and will head back to the Governor’s Office in September.

Williams, an OBGYN, took over as the director of DHSS after he was appointed by former Gov. Eric Greitens in 2017. Before that, Williams worked in North Carolina, his home state, as the director for its Department of Health and Human Services. He didn’t plan to leave the Tar Heel State for Missouri, a place he only briefly visited as a child, but after flying out for an interview, he was hooked.

Kauerauf comes to Missouri as the state struggles with the delta variant of COVID-19 and vaccination rates lag behind other states. 

About 50 percent of Missouri adults have completed vaccination. On Wednesday, nearly 1,500 Missourians were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 465 in the ICU and 229 on ventilators, according to the state’s public health dashboard. 

This story has been updated.