Jeramey Jannene

Mayor Names New Health Commissioner

Michael Totoraitis will lead department, subject to council confirmation.

By - Apr 19th, 2023 10:46 am
Michael Totoraitis. Image provided.

Michael Totoraitis. Image provided.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson has made his choice for Milwaukee’s next health commissioner.

Johnson announced the appointment of Michael Totoraitis, who most recently worked as the director of health data and evaluation within the Milwaukee Health Department. He holds a Ph.D. in public and community health from the Medical College of Wisconsin.

“I am very pleased Mike has accepted my offer to lead the city’s public health efforts.  His experience, education, and character give him a solid background to take on the role of Commissioner,” said Johnson in a statement. “Mike is well connected with people and organizations in our city, so he is set to build on the partnerships the Health Department has in Milwaukee.”

Totoraitis would replace Kirsten Johnson, who announced her resignation in January after nearly two years on the job. Johnson was later appointed Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The job is seen by many as one of the most difficult within city government. The health department oversees everything from the city’s response to disease outbreaks to the Office of Violence Prevention. It also administers the city’s childhood lead abatement program, which was subject to a criminal investigation and federal intervention in 2018. Under state law, the health commissioner is the only public health official in Milwaukee who can order a quarantine and impose local health orders.

Tortoraitis would be the sixth commissioner in six years. He has been with the department since September 2021. Before earning his Ph.D. in 2021, Totoraitis was was a program supervisor with Safe & Sound, a violence prevention research coordinator with the health department’s Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission and a grants analyst with Milwaukee County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology and law studies from Marquette University.

The appointment is subject to Common Council confirmation.

“I am honored by Mayor Johnson’s appointment and am excited to lead this team of passionate public health professionals,” said Totoraitis. “The foundational work set by former Commissioner Johnson has given our department a clear strategic vision. I look forward to continuing the momentum we have started together.”

Totoraitis will take the helm of the department as the federal government winds down its COVID-19 pandemic response. The pandemic and managing the city’s response had dominated much of Kirsten Johnson’s tenure.

Deputy commissioner of environmental health Tyler Weber has served as the acting commissioner since Kirsten Johnson’s resignation.

When she was appointed in January 2021, Johnson was the city’s fifth health commissioner in three years. She was the latest commissioner to take the difficult job following the January 2018 ouster of Bevan K. Baker over issues with the city’s childhood lead poisoning prevention program. Johnson replaced interim commissioner Marlaina Jackson, who served in the role from September 2020 to early 2021. Jeanette Kowalik served as commissioner for two years before resigning to take a health policy job in Washington D.C. She is now a health policy consultant. Patricia McManus served as a Common Council-appointed interim commissioner following Baker’s ouster.

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Categories: City Hall, Health, Weekly

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