News: Public Health

Milwaukee Common Council names Jeanette Kowalik health commissioner

Wednesday, September 5, 2018  
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Milwaukee Common Council names Jeanette Kowalik health commissioner
*From September 5, Wisconsin Health News


Milwaukee’s Common Council named Jeanette Kowalik the city’s next health commissioner Wednesday morning.

The council unanimously backed Kowalik, associate director of women’s and infant health at the nonprofit Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs in Washington D.C.

She received approval from the council’s Public Safety and Health Committee Tuesday.

“I am pursuing this position to serve Milwaukee, my hometown, first and foremost,” Kowalik told committee members. “I intend to bring the department back to a dynamic level of accountability and health service delivery that it once had many years ago and then move it forward.” 

Kowalik has worked at the Milwaukee Health Department, the Wauwatosa Health Department and the Chicago Department of Public Health. She was also director of campus health initiatives and prevention services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Kowalik told council members she supports creating an oversight board for the department comprised of community and clinical members. She also called for addressing staff turnover and recruiting diverse employees.

“The days of operating in the dark will be abolished,” she said. “We will embrace open data and reporting.”

That data reporting will help the department achieve accreditation and increase its ability to apply for funding opportunities, she said.

The health department has faced criticism and investigations after it came to light that staff failed to notify some families that their children had elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Former commissioner Bevan Baker resigned, and the Common Council appointed Patricia McManus, the head of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, as interim commissioner earlier this year.

McManus told city council members that there’s “dysfunction that’s been approved and actually supported in the health department.” She detailed staffing and other issues across multiple programs.

“I’ve done what I can,” she said, adding that Kowalik will “have a lot to do to move this forward.” 

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