Health agency, state’s largest department, getting new leadership

DOVER — Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker will leave her current role later this month, to be replaced by Deputy Secretary Molly Magarik, the state announced Tuesday.

A board-certified practicing family physician, Dr. Walker has led the agency since February 2017, shortly after Gov. John Carney assumed office. She is departing “to fulfill a desire to pursue health care policy work at the national level” and will work in Nemours’ Washington office, per the governor’s office.

Kara Odom Walker

“Since the day I took office as governor, Dr. Walker has been a central part of the most qualified and diverse cabinet in Delaware’s history,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “Over the last several years, she has managed our health and social services programs with grace, poise and with a steadfast focus on helping the Delawareans who are most in need.

“Kara’s compassionate leadership has been so incredibly important this year, as Delaware has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Her leadership during this difficult time has saved lives, and helped Delaware respond successfully to this disease.

“Now we all need to do our part. Stay socially distant. Wear a face covering. Kara’s voice and leadership will be sorely missed in Delaware, but I’m confident she will continue to do great things at Nemours.”

Ms. Magarik has been deputy secretary the entire time Dr. Walker has led the agency. In that role, she has handled health care financing, budget administration and early childhood education for the department, working with other cabinet officials, lawmakers and health care leaders. Gov. Carney called her “a proven leader, a problem solver and a committed public servant.”

She previously worked for Gov. Carney when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was executive director of the Delaware Democratic Party, among other jobs with government and nonprofits. She is a candidate for a master’s degree in health care delivery science from Dartmouth College.

“I am truly humbled and incredibly honored to be nominated by Gov. Carney as the next secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services,” Ms. Magarik said in a statement. “I am grateful to the governor for the trust and faith he has in me to lead this agency, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to serve in his cabinet. I thank Secretary Walker for her leadership and guidance, and for the inspiring way she had led our Department for more than three years with an innovative spirit, a caring heart and an incredible commitment to improving the quality of life for Delawareans.”

Molly Magarik

DHSS is the fifth agency to experience a change in leadership over Gov. Carney’s three-and-a-half years (not counting the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which had its chief from the prior administration stay on for two months longer than planned after the first nominee failed to gain Senate approval).

The department is the state’s largest agency, with 11 divisions and more than 4,000 employees. Founded in 1969, DHSS has always contained an amalgamation of services, and today it deals with issues as varied as drug addiction, animal welfare and disabilities.

At $1.23 billion, its budget for the current fiscal year is about 28% of state General Fund spending. Only the Department of Education receives a larger share (35%).

“It was an incredible honor to be chosen by Gov. Carney to lead the team at DHSS and to be entrusted with meeting the needs of the people of Delaware,” Dr. Walker said in a statement. “It has been one of the highlights of my life to come back to my home state and lead the dedicated team of women and men here at DHSS. During the pandemic, I witnessed our team come together as never before and figure out new ways of meeting the health and social service needs of the people we are sworn to serve.

“I am grateful to the governor’s office, our fellow state agencies, the legislators, community partners and residents of Delaware for the faith they had in me and our entire department. While I know that we advanced many health and social service policies during my tenure, I will always wish that I had more time, because there is more work to address health equity, health care costs and access to care up and down our state, but particularly for vulnerable populations.”

Ms. Magarik is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in the next two weeks.