Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Health Secretary Tracie Collins – a key figure in New Mexico’s response to the pandemic – plans to leave the governor’s Cabinet later this month and return to the University of New Mexico.
Collins, a physician, took over the Department of Health in December and led the agency as it oversaw the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
She accepted the state job with the understanding that she might return to academia after overseeing the vaccinations, according to a statement by the Governor’s Office. Her tenure coincided with a critical period in the pandemic, taking over as New Mexico faced then-record highs in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Collins’ departure this month comes after recent turnover in the leadership of the departments of Workforce Solutions and General Services.
Information Technology Secretary John Salazar also plans to retire July 30, citing family health concerns.
Altogether, nearly half of the Cabinet-level department jobs have changed hands since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in 2019. Eleven departments have had different leaders, and 12 have had the same secretary.
Collins said she was grateful to her colleagues in the Department of Health and to Lujan Grisham for her faith in her skills.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to protect New Mexicans,” Collins said, “especially with our emphasis on equity and reaching underserved populations.”
David Scrase, secretary of the Human Services Department, which runs the Medicaid program, will take over the Department of Health on top of his other duties. It will be a temporary assignment.
Scrase is a physician who has helped shaped New Mexico’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lujan Grisham has called him New Mexico’s own “Dr. Fauci,” a reference to Anthony Fauci, who has served as an adviser to then-President Donald Trump and now President Joe Biden.
“I ask a lot of Dr. Scrase, and that won’t stop any time soon,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. “Throughout the pandemic, he has shown his quality day-in, day-out, as a leader who gets the most out of people and as someone who digs into the data and helps us find the right answers.”
Before joining the state Department of Health, Collins served as dean of UNM’s College of Population Health.
As health secretary, Collins makes about $156,000 a year – the standard amount that most Cabinet secretaries get. She is set to step down at the end of July.
In an interview, Rep. Christine Trujillo, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, said she “heard nothing but good things” about Collins’ work as a Cabinet secretary.
Trujillo said she was surprised to hear Collins will leave but that turnover in highly scrutinized Cabinet jobs is to be expected.
“I think it’s par for the course,” she said of the changes.