Who is Kody Kinsley, Gov. Cooper’s next pick to lead the NC health department?

·5 min read

After nearly five years with Dr. Mandy Cohen at the helm, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services will soon have a new leader to direct the state’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and other public health challenges, including the burgeoning opioid epidemic.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Cohen, who has led DHHS since the start of his first term in January 2017, and has been the face of North Carolina’s efforts to curb COVID-19, will step down as the agency’s secretary at the end of the year.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve this state at such an important moment in history,” Cohen said in a news release. “I am grateful for Governor Cooper’s leadership, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished to improve the health and well-being of the state over the last five years.”

Cooper said Cohen has exhibited “extraordinary leadership” and that he is “enormously grateful for her service.”

New DHHS secretary appointed

Kody Kinsley, chief deputy secretary for health at DHHS, will succeed Cohen as secretary beginning Jan. 1.

Cooper praised Kinsley, saying he was part of a “remarkable team of talented people” Cohen had assembled at DHHS.

“I know he will continue the strong legacy of competence, effectiveness and efficiency as he takes over as Secretary,” Cooper said.

Cohen said “there is much work still to do,” adding that she was pleased Cooper had chosen Kinsley “to take the baton to run the next leg of this race.”

If confirmed by the North Carolina Senate, Kinsley will become the first openly gay person to serve as a cabinet secretary in the state’s history, the release stated.

Kody Kinsley, the chief deputy secretary for health at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, is being appointed to serve as the agency’s next leader, replacing outgoing Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
Kody Kinsley, the chief deputy secretary for health at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, is being appointed to serve as the agency’s next leader, replacing outgoing Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

In a post on Twitter, Kinsley said he was grateful for Cohen’s leadership and felt honored by Cooper’s confidence in him to lead DHHS and “improve the health, safety & well-being of all North Carolinians.”

Portfolio at DHHS included COVID response

A former policy analyst with experience working in the White House and U.S. Department of the Treasury during the Obama administration, Kinsley has been working at DHHS since March 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile.

For his first three years at the agency, Kinsley served as deputy secretary for behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disabilities, a role in which he led “statewide public policy and regulation” of issues like mental health and substance abuse, which included the state’s response to the opioid epidemic, his LinkedIn profile states.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Kinsley has served as operations lead for the agency’s pandemic response.

Kinsley has reported to Cohen and Cooper in that role, and was responsible for implementing and scaling major facets of DHHS’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, including “medical surge, PPE, testing, contact tracing, data and technology, finance, staffing, response of state facilities, and vaccine administration,” according to his LinkedIn profile.

In April, Kinsley was promoted to serve as DHHS’s chief deputy secretary for health, overseeing four of the agency’s divisions: the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services; the Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities; the Division of Public Health; and the Division of Health Service Regulation.

He also leads the agency’s recently created Office of Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, according to a biography of Kinsley on the DHHS website.

Several roles in federal government

Unlike Cohen, who has a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health, Kinsley does not have any medical or public health education.

A Wilmington native, Kinsley earned his bachelor’s degree in health science, math and chemistry from Brevard University in Brevard, N.C., and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley. According to his LinkedIn profile, he also completed a summer research program in “quantitative science” from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

He spent seven years in Washington, D.C., working in a variety of roles in the federal government before returning to North Carolina in 2018.

Kinsley began his career in D.C. in 2011 at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he was a health program IT analyst.

That was followed by roles as a policy analyst for the White House’s Domestic Policy Council between December 2013 and June 2014, and nearly three and a half years at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he worked as a special assistant and senior advisor to officials overseeing the agency’s management and budget.

After eight months serving in the D.C. Department of Human Services, a local agency that oversees the city’s response to homelessness and financially-insecure residents, Kinsley was appointed by President Barack Obama in June 2016 to serve as the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary of management.

In that role, Kinsley handled a “broad scope of responsibility for the agency, its $15.5 billion discretionary budget, and 100,000 employees,” his DHHS biography states.

He continued in that position until March 2018, more than a year into the first term of President Donald Trump.

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