Kirsten Johnson Appointed DHS Secretary as Agency Releases State Health Plan, Equity Report

Kirsten Johnson Appointed DHS Secretary

On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers (D) announced the appointment of Kirsten Johnson as secretary of the Department of Health Services (DHS). Most recently, Johnson was the Milwaukee Commissioner of Health for two years and previously spent 10 years as the director and health officer of the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department. Previous DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake left office at the beginning of January after serving for almost exactly two years.

DHS Releases Five-Year State Health Plan

Last week, DHS announced its release of the 2023-2027 State Health Improvement Plan, described by the department as a “five-year roadmap for improving health and well-being for all Wisconsinites.” The plan encourages the state’s public health establishment to adopt “three foundational shifts in the way our state does the work of public health:”

  • Institutional and systemic fairness
  • Representation and access to decision making
  • Community-centered resources and services

The plan identifies five priority areas for public health officials and policymakers to focus on:

  • Social and community conditions, including economic well-being, supportive systems of dependent care, and healthy housing
  • Physical, mental, and systemic safety
  • Person and community-centered health care
  • Social connectedness and belonging
  • Mental and emotional health and well-being

More information is available on the Wisconsin State Health Plan website. DHS is required by state law to periodically produce a health plan and assess the state’s health needs and resources.

Governor’s Health Equity Council Releases Report, Policy Recommendations

Last week, the Governor’s Health Equity Council announced the release of a 115-page report titled “Building a Better Wisconsin: Investing in the Health and Well-being of Wisconsinites.” The report details 20 policy recommendations intended to reduce health disparities among Wisconsinites. According to the executive summary, “the Council chose to center its recommendations on addressing upstream drivers of health focusing on three core types of factors: economic, social and the physical environment.”

Among the policy recommendations included in the report:

  • Extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to the full 12 months.
  • Improve Medicaid reimbursements for child dental services.
  • Create a state tax credit for employers that hire formerly incarcerated individuals, including incentives for employers to provide health insurance and treatments for mental health conditions and substance use disorder.
  • Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour.
  • Create an Office of Environmental Justice charged with designing and advising on inclusive and equitable climate policies.
  • Expand access to broadband service in rural Wisconsin.
  • Implement a guaranteed income pilot program in five marginalized communities throughout the state.

In March 2019, Gov. Evers ordered the creation of the Governor’s Health Equity Council and tasked it with developing a plan and policy recommendations to reduce health disparities based on demographic factors such as race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography.