Magazine article Policy & Practice

Navigating through the Challenge

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Navigating through the Challenge

Article excerpt

At the close of 2008, our newly elected governor, Jack Markell, nominated me to serve as Cabinet secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services; the largest department in state government. It is an extreme honor to serve in this capacity, since I have embraced the mission of this department throughout my career as an advocate. As an advocate, I have spent 30 plus years attempting to influence the behavior and focus of government, only to find myself now faced with the responsibility from the inside of government. Many from the advocacy community applauded my appointment while those in the field of public service were somewhat skeptical of my ability to transition from so-called activist to public servant. I believe that these characteristics are one in the same. Public servants are indeed advocates and advocates can be viewed as public servants ensuring that those most disenfranchised are not forgotten. So for an advocate, to be given the opportunity to lead the state agency that focuses on enhancing the quality of life for our public, there was no doubt that I would accept the appointment, even in the midst of the most challenging economic times facing my state.

Our mission is indeed a very worthy one:

To improve the quality of life for Delaware's citizens by promoting good health and well-being, fostering self-sufficiency, and protecting vulnerable populations.

The services of the department have an impact on every Delawarean, whether by direct intervention through benefits and support or indirectly by ensuring the public is protected by disease. Our vision is to facilitate and empower individuals and communities to gain healthy outcomes, both in physical wellness and emotional well-being, to gain economic self-sufficiency, which will eliminate or limit long-term reliance on government, and to protect and support those citizens most vulnerable due to advanced age, disability or medical fragility.

Our mission is worthy, but our economic reality is forcing us to constantly re-evaluate the value and the impact of the service. We are challenged by the public's distrust of government and by those of the belief that placing blame will somehow advance the direction for greater good. It will not, in fact; I have found that it only divides us further and energy is spent in the defensive mode, which does not honor our mission. In fact, it may only prolong our ability to truly problem solve. Our government is one of the most liberating of all, we choose our leaders and, we can influence the direction from the outside as well as from the inside. …

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