Health Commissioner Kowalik Resigns
Led the department's turnaround after lead crisis. Will take Washington D.C. job.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik has submitted her resignation. She intends to join the Washington D.C.-based health policy nonprofit Trust for America’s Health as director of policy development.
Kowalik, a Milwaukee native, was appointed health commissioner in September 2018. She took over the department as it faced turmoil and multiple investigations surrounding the failure of the city’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and has now guided the department during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under her leadership, Milwaukee was the first city to declare racism a public health crisis in 2019. Early in the pandemic Kowalik and other health department officials identified that the areas of the city with the highest COVID-19 spreads were neighborhoods with populations affected by historical redlining and other public health issues.
“As much as I love my hometown, I believe that I am limited due to factors that are out of my control. This was evident at multiple points in time through our pandemic response. From access to testing, promotion of masks/face coverings, gathering limits, orders, messaging and outreach for communities of color, and various threats to Health Officers. I have decided to redirect my energy and skills to upstream approaches that will improve the health of millions of Americans,” said Kowalik in a statement. “I am excited to join TFAH’s leadership team as Director of Policy Development and return to Washington D.C. My experience as a local Health Officer will be an asset to policy development at TFAH. I am confident that the MHD leadership team, which consists of five Deputy Commissioners and a Chief of Staff, are highly competent and able to continue to manage the department in my absence. I will continue to provide support through the transition and believe that the progress made over the last two years will set the stage for continued growth and innovation under the next Commissioner. In closing, I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to serve my hometown in this capacity.”
“I am grateful to Commissioner Kowalik for her dedication and leadership, especially during this pandemic. She is leaving the department in a solid position to continue to make progress. I wish her the very best as she advances to her new position.” said Mayor Tom Barrett in a statement.
Kowalik and Barrett are scheduled to address the media on Thursday afternoon.
Kowalik, who holds a doctorate from UW-Milwaukee, started her career in the Milwaukee Health Department but more recently worked in Washington D.C. before returning to Milwaukee to serve as health commissioner.
The Milwaukee Health Department’s second in command, deputy commissioner Sanjib Bhattacharyya, was the other finalist for the health commissioner post in 2018.