FILE - Louisiana State Capitol

The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Stuart Seeger | Flickr via Creative Commons)

The head of Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission will be the next leader of the Louisiana Department of Health.

Courtney Phillips replaces Dr. Rebekah Gee, who stepped down as LDH secretary last month. Stephen Russo, the department’s executive counsel, will continue to be the interim secretary until Phillips starts in April, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

“I have tremendous confidence in Courtney,” Edwards said. “She’s somebody that I’ve known for a long time, and I feel really good about her leadership in that position and what she’s going to be able to do for the state of Louisiana.”

Phillips is a Louisiana native who spent 12 years at LDH and has three degrees from Louisiana universities. She earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and a Master of Public Administration from Louisiana State University, and a Ph.D. in public policy from Southern University in Baton Rouge.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018 picked her to lead the health commission, which is that state’s equivalent to LDH. She led creation of Blueprint for a Healthy Texas, a strategic plan for the HHS.

Before coming to Texas, Phillips led the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Her experience leading other state health departments, and her familiarity with Louisiana’s, made Phillips “the obvious choice” for the job, Edwards said.

"It's an honor to return home and serve the people of this great state, as the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health," Phillips said. "The opportunity to lead the organization in which my career began and ignited my passion for service is one I do not take lightly.”

Phillips will be paid $250,000 to lead LDH, taking a pay cut from her $290,000 salary in Texas, Edwards said.

“That’s why it’s good to have somebody coming home,” Edwards said. “I guess that’s worth something.”

Phillips is entering a very different political environment, going from the conservative Republican Abbott administration to working for Edwards, a Democrat who proudly embraced the federal government’s Medicaid expansion.

LDH currently is involved in multiple high-profile controversies. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear a case challenging a Louisiana law that requires providers who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The department also is dealing with protests of its contract awards to manage the services of Medicaid recipients.

“I could not be more excited about Courtney Phillips becoming our new Secretary of Health,” Gee said via Twitter. “There is not a person more qualified in our nation for this role and she will serve with distinction and has passion about the populations we serve.”

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.