JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that he hoped to name a new state health director quickly to rebuild the agency after parting ways with the man who had led it throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor’s office announced the resignation Tuesday of Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams without providing any specific reason for his departure.
Speaking for the first time about it, Parson told reporters: “I thought it was the best thing for the Cabinet, the best thing for the governor’s office that we go in different directions.”
Parson, a Republican, didn’t elaborate on reasons for the split but noted that the past year had been “extremely difficult” for many of his Cabinet members, who never had the opportunity to take a break.
“It continued to be a very stressful environment, and I’ll say this — as governor, I expect so much out of my Cabinet, I truly do. I push, and I push hard,” Parson said.
Williams had been appointed to lead the health department in 2017 by then-Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned the next year while facing potential impeachment proceedings over scandals involving a sexual affair and alleged campaign violations. Parson, who had been lieutenant governor, kept many of Greitens’ top officials when Parson ascended to the governor’s office.
But Parson also parted ways this week with Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann, who served in a position that Greitens had established. Parson said that both had done a good job and that he would give them “a high reference” if they were looking for work elsewhere.
Parson, who won election to a full four-year term last November, said he was less concerned about replacing Erdmann but hoped to recruit someone to lead the health department within 30-60 days.
“I think you’ll see that whole department, that whole agency, be rebuilt,” Parson said.
As health director, Williams frequently accompanied Parson to briefings about the COVID-19 pandemic. He repeatedly urged Missourians to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands to help slow the spread of the virus. But he also backed Parson’s decision not to require face masks throughout the state.
The health department has been criticized by some for its rollout of the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana program and for the department’s efforts to revoke the license to perform abortions of the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. After a lengthy legal battle, the clinic, at 4251 Forest Park Avenue, was granted its license renewal.
The clinic is currently Missouri’s only abortion provider.
Sam Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, said Thursday that he was disappointed by Williams’ departure.
“From a pro-life perspective, he was excellent — couldn’t have asked for anyone better,” Lee said.
Planned Parenthood had said in a statement Tuesday that it felt “vindicated for every Missourian whose life was made harder because of Williams’ failure as a public health leader.”