Executive Office of Health & Human Services Secretary Jones stepping down

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE said on Monday that R.I. Executive Office of Health & Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones will be stepping down, effective May 1./ COURTESY R.I. EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee said on Monday that R.I. Executive Office of Health & Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones will be stepping down, effective May 1.

Jones, hired in 2019, becomes the latest Raimondo-era cabinet member to depart from the McKee administration. The agency is funded with more than $3 billion in general revenue an federal funding and presides over six state departments.

Jones, at McKee’s behest, was deployed on April 9 to serve as interim director of the department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals after its director, Kathryn Power, submitted her letter of resignation due to a family member’s diagnosed health issue.

In May, McKee ordered Jones to review of the troubled Eleanor Slater Hospital and make recommendations about issues such as staffing and quality of patient care, departmental policy and operational issues. The following June, Jones recommended 70 specific changes to the Eleanor Slater network, including restructuring the hospital system, including its leadership and operations, to become more focused on patient care. However some hospital officials, including former chief medical officer for Eleanor Slater Hospital, Dr. Brian Daly, criticized the report as biased.

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McKee said that Secretary Jones’ tenure leading the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has been defined not only by her experience and thoughtful leadership, but also by her passion and advocacy for the communities she served.

“Throughout the first year of my administration, Secretary Jones stepped up whenever we needed her, particularly as we took bold action to begin addressing longstanding issues at Eleanor Slater Hospital,” he said. “She has been a key in driving our progress on many other initiatives, including supporting an equitable COVID-19 response.”

Jones said the governor and his administration have been a tremendous support to EOHHS and the health and human services agencies under its umbrella, using three core guiding principles – choice, race equity and community engagement.  She said within the first six months of her arrival to Rhode Island, the pandemic began and her focus was on keeping government running and ensuring that the state’s communities were safe.

“While there has been positive transformation in our state’s healthcare, behavioral healthcare, and social service systems that underpin the health and well-being of every resident in Rhode Island, more work is needed,” she said. “I would have loved to continue serving as EOHHS Secretary, to see these transformations through, but I have family needs that require me to return home to Chicago.”

The governor’s office an interim secretary will be named by May 1 and Secretary Jones will work closely with the administration to ensure a successful transition.

The state agency has suffered from turmoil, staffing changes and controversy from the result of a hospital downsizing that McKee inherited from former Gov. Gina M. Raimondo when she departed office on March 2 to become U.S. Commerce Secretary in President Joe Biden’s administration.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.

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