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Gov. Reynolds Appoints Texas Official To Lead Department of Human Services

kelly garcia
Courtesy of Gov. Kim Reynolds' office
Kelly Kennedy Garcia will become the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services Nov. 1.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday she appointed Kelly Kennedy Garcia to be the new Iowa Department of Human Services director, two and a half months after Reynolds abruptly ousted the previous director.

Garcia is currently a deputy executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. She has also worked for the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which studies whether state agencies should be abolished, and for former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

“Kelly brings a depth of experience in a large-scale, high-impact government agency and will serve Iowa’s families and communities will in this vital role,” Reynolds said in a news release. She later told reporters she "loved" Garcia's passion, energy, and focus on teamwork. 

Garcia is scheduled to start leading the state’s biggest agency Nov. 1, and her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. 

“To meet the ambitious goals Gov. Reynolds has set out for serving Iowa’s most vulnerable populations, it’s going to take a strong team effort at DHS and throughout the state,” Garcia said in a statement. “I look forward to hitting the ground running and building relationships within our own team and across the state to help Iowa families succeed.”

Garcia is set to make $154,300 each year, plus a $50,000 bonus. Reynolds said it is a one-time bonus that is "part of what it takes to get good talent into the state of Iowa." 

Democratic lawmakers are calling on Garcia to improve the state’s privately managed Medicaid program for low-income and disabled Iowans.

“The biggest job for Gov. Reynolds and the newly appointed Department of Human Services Director Kelly Kennedy Garcia will be fixing the turmoil that Iowans continue to face in our health care system, due to an ill-conceived Medicaid privatization plan,” said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines.

Texas also has privately managed Medicaid, also known as managed care, and reporting by The Dallas Morning News revealed the private insurance companies have denied care to patients.

Reynolds said she is not concerned that Garcia is coming from a state that has had Medicaid managed care issues similar to Iowa's. 

Garcia will replace interim director Gerd Clabaugh, who is also the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Meanwhile, former DHS Director Foxhoven is taking legal action over the governor’s request for his resignation in June. Foxhoven alleges the governor’s chief of staff asked for his resignation because he was seeking a legal opinion on a salary-sharing agreement between DHS and the governor’s office.

Reynolds has denied that Foxhoven brought those concerns to her or her staff.

She has repeatedly said a lot of factors were involved in her decision to ask for Foxhoven’s resignation. Reynolds has also said she wants to take the agency in a new direction, but she has not provided details about that new direction. 

Asked Thursday to elaborate on what she wants Garcia to do differently, Reynolds mentioned collaboration, technology, and giving staff the tools they need. 

"I'm not going to be prescriptive on do this do this do this," Reynolds said. "I'm bringing her expertise into the department, somebody from the outside that can lift the hood and look at what's currently being done and look for opportunities to do that more efficiently and more effectively from a collaborative standpoint." 

Democratic lawmakers are also calling on Reynolds to provide more information about Foxhoven’s resignation, and about the new direction she envisions for DHS.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter