This story originally published online at N.C. Policy Watch. 

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the leading voice of the state’s COVID-19 response, will leave her post as Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at the end of this year.

News of Cohen’s departure was reported by multiple media outlets just hours before Tuesday’s briefing with Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the Coronavirus Task Force.

Dr. Cohen, who has two daughters ages 7 and 9, has served as North Carolina’s top health official since 2017.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve this state at such an important moment in history,” said Cohen. “I am grateful for Governor Cooper’s leadership, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished to improve the health and well-being of the state over the last five years. There is much work still to do, and I am so pleased the Governor selected Kody Kinsley to take the baton to run the next leg of this race.”

Governor Roy Cooper praised Cohen’s leadership and tireless work ethic in announcing her departure.

“She has worked every day during this pandemic to help keep North Carolinians healthy and safe,” said Governor Cooper. “We are stronger because of her efforts and I am enormously grateful for her service. She has built a remarkable team of talented people.”

Secretary Cohen was awarded the Leadership in Public Health Practice Award from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in September of last year. She was named the 2020 Tar Heel of the Year by the Raleigh News & Observer. Earlier this year Dr. Cohen was also elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

In addition to managing the state’s COVID response the governor’s office notes that Sec. Cohen and her team successfully launched Medicaid managed care, receiving national recognition for the state’s innovative approach to whole-person care, including the integration of physical and mental health and using Medicaid to address drivers of health such as housing, transportation, and employment.

Under Cohen’s leadership, N.C. DHHS also hired its first Chief Health Equity Officer to focus on reducing disparities in opportunity and outcomes for historically marginalized populations.

Cohen, an internal medicine physician, plans to spend more time with her family while exploring new opportunities.

Gov. Cooper has tapped Kody H. Kinsley, who currently serves as the Chief Deputy Secretary for Health at NCDHHS and Operations Lead for NC’s COVID-19 pandemic response to fill Cohen’s position.

Kinsley has been Kinsley has been a leader in North Carolina’s vaccine distribution efforts and overseen the state’s response to the Opioid Epidemic.

Prior to his work at NCDHHS, Kinsley served as the presidentially appointed Assistant Secretary for Management for the United States Department of the Treasury.  He served as both the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer with a broad scope of responsibility for the agency and its $15.5 billion budget.

Kinsley, who will take over the post January 1, will become the first openly gay cabinet Secretary in North Carolina history.

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