A Time of Adversity and Opportunity

It’s an unusual time to be Secretary of all things health care in California.

On the one hand, Diana Dooley will take over the Department of Health and Human Services at a time when budget cuts have already worn the public safety net down to spider-web thinness.

And she arrives with a new budget deficit looming that could gut many existing health care and service programs. In fact, outgoing Governor Schwarzenegger asked lawmakers to cut more than $1 billion from Medi-Cal and the Healthy Families programs, and to eliminate the $1.4 billion CalWORKS program altogether.

“It is not a happy time for someone to take the reins,” Wendy Lazarus of The Children’s Partnership said of Dooley. “It’s a bit of a thankless job.”

And yet there is good reason to take it, she said.

“It’s also an historic moment,” Lazarus said, “and there she is, in a unique position to guide it.”

Dooley will preside over a health reform revolution in California, Lazarus said, and that is something few people in the health care world could pass up.

California’s the better for it, in Lazarus’ opinion.

“She certainly has the expertise, respect and intelligence,” Lazarus said. “She’s widely respected in the health and human services community, and she has a long track record in access issues, in particular. And that’s going to be so important in the coming years.”

And possibly more important, incoming Governor Brown has worked with Dooley in the past. Because they’ll be dealing with the complicated issues around health care reform implementation and how to help more Californians with less money, that position took on more importance for Brown, Lazarus said.

“He found someone with not only the sterling credentials, but who has worked with him,” she said. “When you’re facing really tough budgeting and program development, I think that does really matter.”

Related Topics

Capitol Desk Public Health