Edwards picks new health chief, keeps corrections secretary

By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press | Posted - Jan. 5, 2016 at 4:41 p.m.



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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The medical director for Louisiana's Medicaid program on Tuesday was named Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards' choice to lead the state health department, the largest agency in state government and the overseer of his Medicaid expansion plans.

Dr. Rebekah Gee, an obstetrician who also works as an LSU medical school professor, will be Edwards' secretary for the Department of Health and Hospitals.

In that role, she'll oversee a $9.7 billion agency that accounts for more than one-third of the state's budget amid ongoing financial problems and a hefty gap in the Medicaid program. She'll also be the figurehead for one of Edwards' key initiatives, his plan to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program to give health insurance to the working poor, as allowed under the federal health care law, with a goal of having the expansion in place by July 1.

Gee acknowledged the difficult job she inherits in a state with deep budget troubles, high poverty levels and troubling health statistics for its people.

"We have serious threats to our health. We have child poverty. We have increasing crime in many of our urban areas. We have serious threats to public health that include increasing chronic disease and infectious disease in our communities," she said.

She added: "But in every crisis there is opportunity, and there is hope."

Gee was one of a dozen staff announcements Edwards, a Democrat who will take the oath of office Monday, made at his transition headquarters.

The governor-elect will keep Jimmy LeBlanc as Louisiana's corrections secretary and tapped former transportation secretary Johnny Bradberry to lead the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

LeBlanc is one of the only Cabinet-level holdovers from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration. His retention comes despite his close relationship with Burl Cain, who recently resigned as longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary during an ongoing criminal investigation by the state police and the state inspector general's office.

Investigators haven't disclosed the allegations that are the subject of their inquiry. The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge has raised questions about Cain's private real estate dealings. Cain has denied engaging in any illegal or unethical activities.

"I have had conversations with Jimmy, obviously, and with other individuals who are looking into the situation surrounding Warden Cain. And I'm absolutely confident that Jimmy has always served the state well and is not entangled in any of those things that are being investigated, and I'm excited to keep him," Edwards said.

LeBlanc has been Jindal's corrections secretary for eight years and previously was the warden of the Dixon Correctional Institute.

Term-limited Republican state Sen. Robert Adley, owner of an energy company, will take over as executive director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority, which oversees one of the nation's largest oil trading and distribution centers. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning will remain in his job, which he's held for the eight years of the Jindal administration.

Also named Tuesday were:

— Chuck Brown, president of an environmental consulting firm, as secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. Brown is a former assistant secretary of the department.

— Jim Waskom, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former prosecutor, as director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

— Ava Dejoie as executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the state's labor department. She currently works for the agency as the statewide rapid response coordinator.

— Jim Craft, chief of the Lafayette Police Department, as executive director of the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice.

Edwards has pieced together most of his Cabinet less than a week ahead of his inauguration, though secretaries for the natural resources and social services departments still haven't been announced.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Melinda Deslatte

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