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Paula Nickelson tabbed as acting DHSS head

Governor Mike Parson has selected Paula Nickelson to serve as the Acting Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).

“Today, we are excited to announce Paula Nickelson as the new DHSS Acting Director,” Governor Parson said. “Paula was a key player in Missouri’s COVID-19 response efforts and has been a valued member at DHSS for more than 22 years. We are confident in her abilities and proud to welcome her to our Cabinet as we move forward from the COVID pandemic and prepare for what comes next in public health.”

The Nickelson comes to the position that has seen some turnover in the last year. After former Director Randall Williams left in April of last year, the department was led by Robert Knodell for a few months before the Governor announced Donald Kauerauf as the new director in September.

Kauerauf served until the end of January when he was not confirmed by the state senate, leading to Richard Moore leading the agency for a month until Nickelson was promoted today.

Nickelson, has been with the department for for 22 years working in including maternal-child health, chronic disease prevention, and emergency preparedness and response. She was also involved in Missouri’s H1N1 response and involved in the state’s COVID-19 response efforts including establishing the state’s first PPE warehouse, and implemented the “box it in” COVID mitigation strategy for long-term care facilities.

“It is a great privilege to be asked to lead the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services,” said DHSS Acting Director Paula Nickelson. “I am committed to enhancing our collaborative work with our local public health partners, our health care and behavioral health partners and all community partners. We will be focusing on the state’s leading causes of morbidity and mortality; prioritizing health equity; and ensuring updated data systems, performance management, and operational excellence tools are in place so we can serve Missourians in the best ways possible.”

As Nickelson was named the Acting Director she will not be required to be confirmed by the state senate. The Governor indicated that the was in no hurry to submit her for confirmation that would remove the acting label. He could leave her in the post as acting director for the duration of his administration.