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Valerie Huhn named new Department of Mental Health director

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Acting Director Valerie Huhn will officially take the reins of the Department of Mental Health (DMH) on Jan. 1.

Huhn will take over for Director Mark Stringer, whose retirement was announced in October. She was chosen to permanently lead DMH by the Missouri Mental Health Commission after a nationwide search, according to commission Chair Teresa Coyan.

“The commission has the utmost confidence in the abilities and talents of Valerie Huhn,” Coyan said in a statement. “We look forward to the department’s continued growth and success with current initiatives, and we know Valerie will strengthen existing relationships and build new ones as well as carry on the innovative thinking of her predecessors.”

Huhn has extensive experience in state government, having served in various roles with the Office of Administration (OA), the Department of Budget and Planning, the Department of Social Services (DSS), and the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). She joined DMH as director of its Division of Developmental Disabilities in 2014 and was named the department’s deputy director in 2020.

“She has experience working even at the federal level and understanding some new opportunities to find solutions for our state,” Coyan said in an interview with Missourinet. “There’s just a lot of opportunity kind of at the cusp. And we felt like with her leadership, her experience, and her passion, it was just a good combination to continue momentum in that department.”

DMH serves around 170,000 people each year. The department has multiple state-operated facilities, including six adult psychiatric hospitals, six regional and six satellite offices for people with developmental disabilities, five long-term care habilitation centers, and one children’s psychiatric facility.

A national leader in the mental health field, Stringer was named the DMH director in 2015 after having worked in the department as a deputy director and then as a division director. He is the former president of the National Association of State and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

The announcement of Stringer’s retirement came amid a Cabinet shakeup that saw new leadership for DSS, OA, and the Department of Economic Development. Former Department of Revenue (DOR) Director Ken Zellers took over OA during the transition, leaving Joseph Plaggenberg, the department’s former general counsel, as its acting director. 

Gov. Mike Parson announced a new DOR director and welcomed Huhn to her position Wednesday.