Lee Norman Resigns as KDHE Secretary

Lee Norman, the Kansas City-area physician who served as Gov. Laura Kelly’s point lead for Kansas throughout the pandemic, has resigned from his cabinet post as head of the Department of Health and Environment. 

Norman, a longtime physician and former chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System, was appointed to lead the KDHE when Kelly took office in 2019. The governor’s office announced his departure today, saying that Ashley Goss, deputy secretary, would take on Norman’s duties on an interim basis, and physician Ximena Garcia would become Medicaid’s medical director and acting state health officer. The governor’s COVID-19 response team also is losing Marci Nielsen, who will step away from her role as Kelly’s policy adviser as of Dec. 3.

Norman became a nearly daily presence in news reports across the state in March 2020, as the pandemic reached Kansas. He led the state’s efforts to produce a coordinated response to the public-health threat, working with hospitals to implement testing regimens, initiating a contact-tracing program, and moving quickly to gather additional personal-protection equipment needed by front-line health-care providers.

“From the first confirmed case until today, Dr. Norman has played vital role within this administration to provide guidance and help steer our state’s response to the virus,” Kelly said in announcing Norman’s departure. “His and his team’s work to keep Kansans safe during this once-in-a-century public health crisis has cemented his place as the most consequential secretary of health and environment in Kansas history.”

Norman thanked Kelly for the opportunity to lead the state during an unprecedented health emergency, saying that “I could not be more proud of each and every staff member at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. For the last two years they have gone above and beyond facing unimaginable circumstances to create and execute the framework of the Kansas COVID-19 response strategy.”

This was not Norman’s first dance with a large-scale viral threat; in 2014, he was summoned to help contain the Ebola virus in Africa in 2014, then again to work on the H1N1 flu threat in 2009. Nor was it his first stint in a health-care command setting; he served as a colonel in the Kansas Army National Guard, where he was deployed to the Middle East and was senior medical commander for more than 12,000 troops.

Posted 12:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 19, 2021