The acting health director is too willing to listen to the CDC

Acting KDHE Secretary Janet Stanek was shoved Thursday as a Senate panel opted to advance her Senate bid without a recommendation. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA – The Kansas Senate will have to decide whether to confirm Janet Stanek, the acting director of the state health department, without a recommendation from the committee after some Republicans on the panel raised concerns about her adhering to Centers for Health guidelines. Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s unclear how Stanek will fare in the full Senate, but Thursday’s decision by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee not to make any recommendations — for or against her — indicates some conservative discontent at regard to the Kelly administration’s handling of the pandemic.

The committee’s decision comes after a confirmation hearing on Wednesday in which conservative Republicans pressed Stanek about the CDC rules and the performance of former Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee. Norman.

Sen. Mike Thompson, a conservative Shawnee Republican, initially made an unsuccessful motion to return the nomination to the Senate with a recommendation of rejection. He said he couldn’t let go of worries that Stanek’s CDC membership would lead to the same issues they had with Norman.

“Is she qualified to run an agency?” Sure, but I have serious concerns about her ability to look outside institutional health and make the decisions necessary to save lives in Kansas if faced with a similar situation,” Thompson said. “By his own admission in his testimony yesterday, the pandemic is not over, so what kind of things are we going to see in the future if there is a spike in cases?”

The same panel grilled Stanek on COVID-19 conspiracy theories in January during his first formal appearance before the Legislative Assembly. If the Senate votes to reject Stanek’s nomination, she will have to resign from her post.

Stanek is a former senior vice president and chief operating officer of Topeka-based Stormont Vail Health. She was appointed to her current position shortly after Norman resigned in November, for what he said was a lack of adherence to a tight and scripted message the governor’s office wanted to send.

Sen. Pat Pettey, who recommended moving Stanek forward favorably, said the committee’s decision not to make a recommendation was a disservice to the Kansans. Being an armchair quarterback two and a half years later is easy, but the role requires someone who can see the big picture and make decisions in the moment, the Kansas City Democrat said.

“We shouldn’t make our decisions based totally on how we feel about certain beliefs about COVID, because I would disagree with a lot of the statements that have been made,” Pettey said.

It is not yet known when the Senate will vote on his confirmation.

CDC Concerns

Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, Stanek was repeatedly asked how she would approach the CDC’s recommendations regarding COVID-19 masks, vaccines and treatments.

Senator Mark Steffen said the KDHE should be more careful about labeling the vaccine safe and effective and was concerned that Stanek would do so if directed by the CDC. Republican Hutchinson and anesthesiologist is currently under study to prescribe ivermectin to patients as a treatment for COVID-19.

“Regarding the COVID shot, yes we talked about how KDHE basically said safe and effective, safe and effective, safe and effective when we have a CDC VAERS reporting system that links over 20,000+ deaths more shooting complications than all other vaccines combined,” said Steffen.

Stanek said she would primarily follow what the CDC recommends as is standard for most local and state government public health workers in the county. However, she expressed a willingness to listen and make changes where appropriate.

For example, KDHE is currently reviewing TV ads promoting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve removed the TV ads and we’re making sure that by reviewing all of our ads, if we have an ad or anything that might mention getting a vaccine, there’s a connection and we encourage people to follow along. their doctor,” Stanek said, reiterating that the CDC will remain the point of reference.

The CDC reports that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, beyond common side effects like muscle aches. The four serious vaccine-related side effects – anaphylaxis, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, myocarditis and pericarditis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome – are rare. Reports to VAERS come from doctors, hospitals and members of the publicand the CDC notes that not all reactions are caused by vaccination.

New department priorities

If confirmed as the new secretary, Stanek said top priorities would include rebuilding trust in the department by increasing transparency, increasing communication with state lawmakers and engaging with stakeholders. to solve current and future problems.

As a testament to her willingness to engage with lawmakers, Stanek pointed out that she sat down with every lawmaker on the panel in the weeks leading up to the confirmation hearing. She said intergovernmental collaboration would go a long way to improving the future of public health in Kansas.

“I have dedicated my life to my profession and to improving the health and safety of my community,” Stanek said. “Because of my experiences and as an accomplished executive and nonprofit volunteer, I believe I am uniquely qualified to lead the third-largest agency in the state…and the millions of people it serves every day. “

Other priorities she mentioned include managing the department’s financial situation, improving staffing and resource infrastructure, and making progress in maintaining and developing the workforce. -work.

In addition to working at Stormont Vail, Stanek served as director of the state employee health benefits program and chair of the board of the Kansas Health Institute. She has served in healthcare leadership roles for the past 35 years in Kansas, Pennsylvania and New York.

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