JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Mike Parson confirmed Thursday he asked Dr. Randall Williams to resign as the Missouri Department of Health Director.
Besides Williams, Parson also asked his Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann to step down from his position as well.
“I think it’s important to realize that they never had a break, never had an opportunity that they couldn’t come to work, and I want to say they were on the front lines for over a year,” Parson said.
Williams and Erdmann both submitted resignation letters Tuesday but the governor’s office did not release why they left.
“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 said. “I saw down with both him and Drew, we talked about things for the future, and we thought it was the best thing to do to part ways at this point.”
Parson credited both for their service to the state.
“Both of those men did outstanding work for me since I’ve been governor for what their jobs were,” Parson said. “I wish them both well and if somebody called me tomorrow and asked me about either one of them, I would give them a high reference.”
Erdmann and Williams were both hired by former Gov. Eric Greitens in 2017.
Frankly, when you’re going through the election process it’s very hard to recruit anybody not knowing if you’re going to be elected governor or whether or not you’re in a political year,” Parson said.
Parson appointed his Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Knodell as the acting director of the state health department.
“He was the logical candidate for now, but this is a very temporary assignment and I need to put somebody over there just stability wise,” Parson said.
Williams helped lead Missouri’s COVID-19 response, which Parson says the state has under control.
“In the last week or two, the demand for the vaccine has gone down,” Parson said. “We are in the process of now seeing whether we’re going to accept the same amounts of vaccine or whether we can actually use it all. I’m telling you, the demand has dropped off drastically for that.”
Parson said it’s the right time to hire someone for the department.
“We also believe it’s a good time to recruit a new director with the situation the state is in,” Parson said. “We are on the downside of the COVID-19. I think there’s an opportunity for a new director to come in. I think you’ll see that whole department, that whole agency be rebuilt.”
After the governor’s appointment of Knodell Thursday, some lawmakers push backed the decision. Representative LaDonna Appelbaum (D-St. Louis) serves on the House Health and Mental Health Committee, doesn’t think Knodell is fit for the job.
“Knodell has no background in public health, and as the ‘czar’ of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, he shoulders much of the blame for the state’s early failures to provide vaccines to urban and suburban areas,” Appelbaum said.
“Missouri still places near the bottom of states for percentage of the population vaccinated. Missourians deserve a DHSS director with experience in public health who will use the authority of the office to help the people of this state, instead of boosting his political profile. That would be a welcome departure from what we’ve had the past four years.”
Parson said he’s aware Knodell doesn’t have a medical background, but he only plans to have him in the interim for less than 60 days. He said there is currently a nationwide search underway for a director. He did not say if he plans on filling Erdmann’s position.