Gov. Mark Dayton took a serious step toward restoring public confidence in an embattled but vital state agency by naming Jan Malcolm to lead the Minnesota Department of Health.
The sighs of relief from the state's world-class health care community were nearly audible this past week with the governor's announcement. The agency had been rocked by a Star Tribune series late last year detailing its failure to investigate elder-abuse complaints. The previous health commissioner, Ed Ehlinger, resigned suddenly in December.
In Malcolm, Dayton made a clutch hire, especially considering that this administration is in its twilight as the 2018 election approaches. She is a former state health commissioner widely respected for work in both the public and private sectors. In addition to leading the department under former Gov. Jesse Ventura, Malcolm has served as the chief executive of Minnesota's well-known Courage Center, a nonprofit serving those with disabilities. She also worked at Allina, the large Twin Cities health care system, as vice president for public affairs and philanthropy.
But the respect in Minnesota for Malcolm goes beyond those previous titles. Unsolicited praise for her made its way to the Star Tribune Editorial Board. Much of it dealt with her leadership style. Those she has worked with say it is that of a caring but firm leader whose passion for health care inspires the same in those who work with her. Others lauded her honesty and professionalism.
Malcolm has a tough assignment and is appropriately putting her focus on fixing the troubling problems highlighted by the Star Tribune series. At the same time, she'll have to ensure that other vital missions at the agency — such as tracking and fighting infectious diseases — remain robust and well-funded. That she's won bipartisan respect over the years should make her an effective advocate for her agency amid coming budget uncertainties.
Malcolm's appointment doesn't instantly restore the Health Department's credibility, as one of her admirers said in an e-mail to an editorial writer this week. She and her staff will have to restore the public's faith in the agency. But having a proven leader like Malcolm at the agency's helm is an excellent start. Minnesotans should be reassured that she is on the job.