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Whitmer declines to explain leadership change at Michigan health department

Robert Gordon resigned abruptly Friday and quickly was replaced by a top administrator
Former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon resigned...
Former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon resigned abruptly on Jan. 22.(State of Michigan)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 3:31 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not directly address the reasons behind a change in leadership at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services during a press conference Monday.

Whitmer wished former director Robert Gordon well, but did not discuss the reasons for his abrupt departure from the top state public health position, which was announced Friday. Elizabeth Hertel, a top administrator in the department, was appointed to take his place.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director ultimately is responsible for COVID-19 epidemic orders that place restrictions on businesses and activities around the state.

Whitmer was asked multiple times on Monday whether she asked Gordon to resign or whether he left at his own decision. She instead thanked Gordon for his work on behalf of Michigan residents leading the state’s response to COVID-19 “in unimaginable, unimaginable circumstances.”

“I’m grateful for his leadership, and we’ve got a wonderful new director at the department so we’re going to continue to forge ahead here,” Whitmer said.

She said leadership changes are inevitable in a gubernatorial administration over the course of four years. Gordon has not announced what his plans are after leaving state government.

“I wish Robert Gordon the very best, I truly do, and I am incredibly grateful for the hard work and the way that that he showed up every single day over these last few years,” Whitmer said. “It has been a long, impossible-to-imagine experience and I’m grateful that that we had his leadership for two years.”

Whitmer appointed Gordon as Michigan Department of Health and Human Services director when she took office in January 2019. He quickly caught flak from Tuscola County after canceling a $115 million plan to rebuild the Caro Center mental health treatment facility and move it elsewhere.

Gordon claimed the rural location in Caro left the facility unable to attract enough quality treatment staff. However, the Tuscola County community organized and appealed directly to Whitmer for a reversal of Gordon’s plans to close the Caro Center.

Eventually, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services decided to keep the Caro Center in Tuscola County with different expansion and renovation plans.

Hertel now takes over the top position at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. She also thanked Gordon for his leadership and Whitmer for placing faith in her to lead the largest state government department.

“I am proud to lead this department where I can see evidence of the differences made every day, whether it’s ensuring Michiganders have access to benefits or food during difficult times are protecting Michiganders public health during times of crisis,” Hertel said. “I look forward to continuing this great work alongside my colleagues at MDHHS and with our community, business, and legislative partners.”

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