The state's doctors, hospitals and long-term care providers have been on the front lines for 20 long months battling COVID-19. They continue to strongly support Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, and their informed opinion ought to be heeded as the asinine debate over her continued employment escalates at the Capitol.
Malcolm heads the state Health Department, a position she has served in under three gubernatorial administrations, including current Gov. Tim Walz. She also has extensive experience in private sector health care that has served her well during the pandemic.
Her deep expertise also enabled her to troubleshoot a previous crisis: the state's mishandling of elder abuse complaints, which led to her health department predecessor's 2017 resignation. Malcolm's steady leadership not only addressed the backlog but led to a long-overdue modernization of long-term care regulations.
But Minnesota Republican legislators may be considering giving this stellar, hardworking public servant the boot during an upcoming special session, with little regard to whether a competent replacement could soon be found.
The GOP controls the state Senate — the chamber with the authority to confirm or reject appointees heading state agencies. Republican leaders already have forced out three Walz appointees over policy differences rather than the kind of serious misconduct for which this power should be reserved.
State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, has said he no longer supports Malcolm. His reasoning was based on an embarrassing misunderstanding of vaccine safety statistics. This week, Senate GOP officials said the caucus has not taken a position on Malcolm but added that members have "a variety of concerns regarding her performance and her working relationship and communications with legislators."
A GOP spokeswoman declined to say if legislators had consulted the state's doctors, hospitals and elder care providers. But an editorial writer did check in with stakeholders. The response: resounding praise for Malcolm.
The Minnesota Medical Association (MMA), whose members include more than 12,000 physicians, residents and students, provided this statement: It "commends the leadership and commitment demonstrated by ... Malcolm during this pandemic. Political efforts to remove her from office would send a chilling message to all public health professionals working tirelessly across this state and will undermine the health of our fellow Minnesotans."
The Minnesota Hospital Association said this: "Malcolm has been an adept partner for Minnesota's hospitals and health systems as we have worked tirelessly to respond to a historic pandemic across the state. We appreciate all of her efforts, and we hope our partnership continues into the future ... ."
LeadingAge Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota, the state's elder care trade organizations, added: "We have appreciated our partnership with ... Malcolm and her team at the Minnesota Department of Health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our journey throughout her tenure has been constructive and we are proud of the work we have done together to serve Minnesota's seniors in long-term care settings."
COVID performance metrics also support keeping Malcolm in place. In a state-to-state comparison, Minnesota has the 11th-lowest overall mortality rate from the virus. More than 90% of Minnesota's 65-and-older population is fully vaccinated — making the state second in the Midwest, seventh nationally. Federal data also shows that Minnesota's COVID case rate per 1,000 nursing home residents is one of the lowest in the nation.
The MMA is correct on the chilling effect the health commissioner's termination would have. Who else would want to take high-profile public sector jobs if someone as respected as Jan Malcolm is kicked to the curb?