Kody Kinsley, the former chief deputy secretary for health of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, was sworn in as secretary on Jan. 1. He is the first openly gay cabinet secretary in North Carolina history.
Kinsley is succeeding Dr. Mandy Cohen, who announced that she would step down from the role in November 2021. Cohen had a five-year tenure as secretary, during which she spearheaded the state's pandemic response.
“I am so proud of what we have accomplished to improve the health and well-being of the state over the last five years,” Cohen said in a Nov. 30 press release. “There is much work still to do, and I am so pleased the Governor selected Kody Kinsley to take the baton to run the next leg of this race.”
Kinsley joined NCDHHS in 2018. During his time at the agency, Kinsley has played a significant role in combating various health crises in the state, such as COVID-19, the opioid epidemic, the lack of robust services and support for people with developmental disabilities and inequities in access to health care.
He played an instrumental role in the state’s pandemic response, helping to drive vaccine distribution efforts.
“I’m honored & excited to take the oath today to serve as Secretary of @ncdhhs,” Kinsley said in a Jan. 1 tweet. “Thank you to @NC_Governor for your confidence in me & thank you to my colleagues for their incredible dedication & service.”
The NCDHHS website notes that one of Kinsley’s top priorities is “responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.” His other priorities include expanding the NCDHHS’s investment in “whole-person health” — with a particular emphasis on mental health — as well as combating substance use disorders and promoting well-being in the state’s workforce, according to the website.
Though early in his tenure, Kinsley has already been tasked with managing the pandemic as North Carolina faces a surge in cases of the omicron variant.
Kinsley has called on North Carolinians to take preventative measures to protect themselves and others during the pandemic.
In a press release on Jan. 4, Kinsley and Gov. Roy Cooper recommended the use of higher-quality masks, such as surgical masks, KN95 masks or N95 masks. The agency is making some of these masks available at no cost at some places such as public schools, long-term care facilities and federally qualified health centers.
While Kinsley emphasized that testing and mask-wearing are important tools to combat the pandemic, he also stressed the importance of vaccinations.
“The bottom line is that vaccines and boosters are the number one thing you can do to protect your health,” Kinsley said in the Jan. 4 press release.
Kinsley and his department will also be tasked with combating drug overdoses associated with the opioid crisis. Between 2000 and 2020, more than 28,000 North Carolinians have died of drug overdoses, according to the NCDHHS.
In 2020, Kinsley testified before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce about the opioid epidemic.
“We are committed to fully abating the opioid epidemic in North Carolina and building a more resilient infrastructure that prevents future waves of drug use from reaching these same epidemic proportions,” Kinsley said in his testimony.
Now, Kinsley has been tasked with leading North Carolina through both COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic.
“I know (Kinsley) will continue the strong legacy of competence, effectiveness and efficiency as he takes over as Secretary,” Cooper said in the Nov. 30 announcement.
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