Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Kirsten Johnson Appointed Milwaukee Health Commissioner

Current leader of joint Washington Ozaukee Health Department would take helm in Milwaukee, lead COVID-19 response.

By - Jan 14th, 2021 02:11 pm
Kirsten Johnson. Photo courtesy of the City of Milwaukee.

Kirsten Johnson. Photo courtesy of the City of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee could soon have a new health commissioner, the city’s third in less than a year and fifth in three years.

Mayor Tom Barrett announced Thursday afternoon he is nominating Kirsten Johnson to serve as the city’s commissioner of health. Her appointment is subject to Common Council confirmation.

Johnson would replace interim commissioner Marlaina Jackson who has served in the role since September. Jeanette Kowalik served as commissioner for just under two years before resigning to take a health policy job in Washington D.C.

The nominee is currently the director of the joint Washington Ozaukee County Health Department. Prior to the 2015 merger, she served as the director of the Ozaukee County Health Department.

She worked in the office of Representative Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health policy fellow for a one year period starting in 2018.

“In her role as Commissioner, Kirsten Johnson will bring experience, knowledge, and commitment to the Milwaukee Health Department,” said Barrett in a statement announcing the appointment. “Kirsten has an extensive history of leadership and service in the field of public health. Her expertise will strengthen the efforts of our health department as we continue to navigate the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Johnson earned a master of public health degree from Tulane University in 2003. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1997.

“She really has an extensive, extensive background,” said Barrett.

In a biography on her LinkedIn profile, she says her family inspired her career choice. “Being raised by two public school teachers, social justice was frequently discussed at breakfast, dinner and everywhere in between,” wrote Johnson. “My mom worked with migrant farmworkers when I was a child and we were frequently approached by families she worked with in the grocery store. They would hug my mom and exclaim in Spanish how excited they were to see her and talk to her about their lives. This early life experience shaped my life and career choices.”

The cabinet-level Commissioner has a broad array of responsibilities from leading the department, currently much larger because of  COVID-19 testing and vaccination work, and the department’s role helping guide the region’s pandemic response. The department is responsible for a myriad of public health programs, including the previously-troubled Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

Under state law, the health commissioner is the only public health official in Milwaukee who can order a quarantine and impose local health orders.

Barrett said Jackson will return to her role as deputy commissioner of community health should Johnson be confirmed. She has been with the department since April 2020.

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Categories: City Hall, Health, Weekly

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