Walker’s Health Department Appoints an Unqualified State Health Officer [UPDATED]

Deposit this one in the “WTF?” file.  Secretary of the Health Department Dennis Smith has appointed Karen McKeown as the new State Health Officer.

First, you should know what does the Department of Public Health does for the citizens of Wisconsin.

Public health makes sure that:

  • We learn ways to improve our own health, and learn to avoid behaviors that lead to chronic disease, disability and early death;
  • Our children are protected against lead poisoning and pregnant women are aware of the harmful effects associated with exposure to mercury and other hazardous substances;
  • We know when to see our health care provider and know which screening tests we should receive;
  • A record is maintained of every birth, death, marriage, divorce and adoption that occurs in Wisconsin so that we can prove the details of these important events;
  • Our children get preventive care for their teeth that helps prevent decay;Children and adults get their immunizations on time;
  • Pregnant women and new mothers have access to nutritious foods for themselves and their babies;Mothers and fathers do a better job of parenting and our children thrive;
  • Fewer babies die in infancy;
  • There are properly trained EMTs and paramedics to serve us in emergencies;
  • Fewer of us get sick, suffer injury or disability;Communicable disease outbreaks are discovered early and interventions applied quickly;
  • New residents gain access to the necessary health services quickly;
  • Our restaurants use appropriate sanitation practices, our hotels and motels are clean and safe, and public swimming pools do not spread disease;
  • We know how to protect our families in emergencies and have access to resources to help us recover from flooding, severe weather and tornadoes.

It’s an important department and the role of Public Health Officer is an important one for the health of many of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens.  Yet despite the importance of this department and this position, Ms. McKeown is described as

a young nurse from Tyler, Texas (pop. 109,000).

Hmmm.  A “young nurse” from Texas.  Is a “young nurse” really up to the job?  Will she be able to execute the programs needed by Wisconsin?   The reaction from Wisconsin State Public Health officials answers that question.

“Who is THAT?” asked one official in a public health department located in southern Wisconsin.

A press release … was released Monday.  “Karen brings a wealth of knowledge across the health policy and public health spectrum and is a strong and effective leader,” Smith says in the announcements.

But insiders point out that McKeown, who as the state’s health officer is the administrator of the Division of Public Health, appears to have no background or degrees in public health, a specialty within the vast arena of health care.

She has been a nurse for 10 years at the East Tyler Medical Center, where she managed a 50-bed oncology ward at the mid-sized hospital, but such clinical work caring for individuals in a medical setting is very different than overseeing the health of the community at large, I’m told.

Healthcare and issues of public health are of significant consequence to the citizens of Wisconsin.  As healthcare and public health costs continue to rise, and funds continue to fall, we must be sure we have the best and brightest people overseeing these departments and their limited resources.  As citizens, we have a right to know that the people appointed to oversee public health programs (and a significant budget) are qualified to execute on the plans and programs vital to our interests.  We must avoid the potential for fiscal mismanagement through ignorance and inexperience.  Ms. McKeown seems to be both ignorant and inexperienced.

McKeown’s bona fides are indeed questionable.

McKeown, who was homeschooled by her mother, also earned an associate of arts degree from Tyler Junior College, a two-year school, in 1998 and a bachelor’s degree in nursing two years later from the University of Texas branch in Tyler.

[UPDATE: McKeown does have an MSN from an online program offered by Yale University, but it is not in Public Health]

Contrast her experience to the most recent Public Health Officer appointed by Governor Doyle.

Dr. Seth Foldy, former Gov. Jim Doyle’s last appointment to the post, was a pediatrician and the former Milwaukee health commissioner. He also held a master’s degree in public health from the Wisconsin Medical College, according to the department’s press release about his appointment in 2010.

I find it more than coincidental that this appointment follows on the heels of Governor Walker’s Texas sojourn.   One cannot help but wonder what political chip was called in by one of Walker’s wealthy donors to secure Ms. McKeown’s appointment.  Political favors putting the health of Wisconsin’s citizens at risk.  How marvelous!

Does Wisconsin really want a Governor who is beholden to wealthy out-of-state interests?  First the “Deer Czar” and now the Public Health Officer?

What other state appointments will go to residents of the Lone Star State?

Ironically, even when he has the opportunity to create a job for a Wisconsin resident, he outsources it to Texas.

Political cronyism rarely gets this obvious.  Yet another reason to Recall Scott Walker.




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19 thoughts on “Walker’s Health Department Appoints an Unqualified State Health Officer [UPDATED]

  1. He’s hitting the bottom of the barrel of loyal republicans willing to take a short term job apparently…had to go to that backward southern state, too.

  2. Actually Dennis Smith is a Heritage Foundation member and so is she.
    I expect that’s whree the cronyism comes in.

    1. I’m thinking this is putting lipstick on a pig. She was there for all of 4 months. What a joke.

      Graduate Fellow, Health Policy
      The Heritage Foundation
      Nonprofit; 201-500 employees; Think Tanks industry
      September 2011 – December 2011 (4 months) Washington, DC

  3. I am also a nurse with a master’s and with 20 years of varied experience, and I wonder how a nurse with so little experience could land this important job. There are MANY qualified people in the highest ranks of Public Health from within our own state who would do a great job in this position. I am very disappointed (again) in our governor because of the choices he is making.

  4. Another move that is in your face and smacks of what are you going to about it you miserable wretches. Anybody who says that walker was raised by a minister is a goddamn liar.

  5. Well, if your job is to dismantle Public Health while passing out whatever money you can to cronies, then you don’t really need much in the way of credentials.

  6. The press release from the Dept. of Health Services (Contact: Stephanie Smiley, 608 266-1683) appears to contain some correct information. However, some statements just might be questionable.

    Karen McKeown’s linkin page: Experience: Staff RN, Oncology 3 years, seven months; Clinical Manager, Oncology: 7 years, 9 months; Graduate Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, 4 months and now Administrator of Public Health, WI. She has a BS in Nursing from U. Texas – Tyler and a MS in Nursing Management, Policy and Leadership from Yale – 2009.

    The release: “Karen brings a wealth of knowledge across the health policy and public health spectrum and is a strong and effective leader.” Do those years nursing in the East Texas Medical Center, Tyler, TX followed by the neo cons. Heritage Foundation fellowship really provide that “wealth of knowledge” in Public Health purported by the release?

    The release: “As an oncology Staff Nurse and Manger for 11 years, she oversaw the clinical operations of inpatient and outpatient oncology departments, supervising more than 80 staff members and has worked with physicians and multidisciplinary teams.” Her title, Clinical Manager, seems to indicate she was in charge of the unit. However the East Texas Medical Center shows Helen Robertson, Oncology Nurse Manager, in charge of the oncology nursing staff (ETMC Annual Report – 2008). ETMC has essentially no historic information on an employee of 11 years.

    The release: “McKeown has extensive experience in health policy and the health care industry.” and “McKeown’s policy work includes extensive research and authoring white papers on rising health care costs and health care economics.” The only paper I could find attributed to McKeown is one she produced for the Heritage Foundation titled “Empowering Patients as Key Decision Makers in Face of Rising Health Care Costs. Abstract: The current trend of rapidly rising health care costs is unsustainable. Many proposed reforms to curb spending rely on some type of rationing imposed by an unaccountable government body. A better alternative would be to allow individual consumers to make their own decisions.” The gist of the paper is that one won’t get services if one can’t afford them. And it’s better to leave it up to the individuals to decide what services they won’t receive. If the Heritage Foundation experience provides her base Public Health mind set, God help Wisconsin.

    The release: “… served as a student fellow with the U. S. Senate Finance Committee.” A plum not noted on her linkin page.

    And though this doesn’t make her evil, it does say something about her political mind set. She has made a number of political contributions since 2004. All have been to Republicans/neo cons. The strangest were three contributions to Sharon Angle –remember that loon? So, that doesn’t make her evil but it sure doesn’t make her smart.

    1. This is very interesting and not at all surprising. In addition, it is sad, once again, for our state. Hoping more people, especially, who are or who have been attached to health care provision in this state will take notice and follow. It is also an insult to all those who truly have the credentials, experience in Public Health, and leadership skills here in Wisconsin that could have been appointed to this position.

  7. Most of the commentators on this blog don’t know what they are talking about. Only one commenter has relevant experience in medicine, and she should know that 10 years is plenty of experience in the medical field. What most of you have conveniently neglected to mention is that she managed a medical center before working for Heritage. Perhaps you guys should call over there to see how she did her job? Wouldn’t that be the most logical step in answering questions of competency?

    1. Read above. (Then I was told the comment was too short. Go back and try again. So, here I am. Back here and trying again. Hope I’m not too short this time.)

    2. I believe she managed a department within a medical center…not the entire center.

      Clinical Manager, Oncology
      East Texas Medical Center Nonprofit; 5001-10,000 employees; Hospital & Health Care industry
      December 2003 – August 2011 (7 years 9 months)


    3. She didn’t manage a medical center; she managed a department within a medical center. What’s more, her experience seems to be limited to oncology, as opposed to having a more broad base of experience.

      My wife (a registered nurse) said “that’s crazy” when I told her what the woman had been appointed to.

    4. She did not manage a medical center. She has no experience in Public Health. 10 years is not plenty of experience in a medical field that is not the medical field you are going to be employed in. That is like saying a teacher who has taught high school math for 10 years is ok to teach special ed of first graders. This article properly listed the responsibilities of Public Health – this is entirely different than an oncology 50 bed unit in a hospital.

  8. Just another example of Walker cronyism. And then they wonder why we feel it’s us against them?

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