Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pediatrician Selected to Lead Health Agency Access to Care Is State's Main Concern, She Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pediatrician Selected to Lead Health Agency Access to Care Is State's Main Concern, She Says

Article excerpt

Dr. Maureen E. Dempsey, a pediatrician who has led state immunization and family health programs, was appointed Wednesday by Gov. Mel Carnahan to run the state Department of Health.

Carnahan said his newest Cabinet member "brings a wealth of expertise to health care issues that concern Missouri," including an influential role in increasing child immunizations and launching a system of community health programs.

Dempsey, 39, said Missouri's "No. 1 public health concern . . . is access to care and the quality of that care that's provided." The Department of Health, with more than 1,000 employees and a budget of about $256 million, provides an array of public health programs, including one that was controversial in the just-ended legislative session : family planning. The Legislature's anti-abortion majority added budget language to block Planned Parenthood, which offers abortions, from continuing to receive state family planning money. Carnahan has threatened to strike that language because of a federal court ruling last year that Missouri could not bar Planned Parenthood from getting the money because it provides abortions. Dempsey said she supports family planning because "it reduces unintended pregnancies, and hopefully, therefore, reduces abortions." "We have an effective public-private partnership that effectively manages family planning for women across the state who are in need of those services," she said. Planned Parenthood is currently part of that system, receiving several hundred thousand dollars in the current budget. But Dempsey declined to say what her advice would be to Carnahan about allowing family planning money to continue to flow to abortion providers. For his part, the governor, an abortion-rights advocate, said he had made no decision about trying to strike the restrictions on family planning money, a step Carnahan has said he can legally take. Abortion foes have said Carnahan cannot cross out legislative budget language. …

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