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Governor names new health commissioner
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Dianne Mandernach, Gov. Pawlenty's choice as state health commissioner, has served as chief executive officer for Mercy Hospital and Health Care Center in Moose Lake since 1993. Pawlenty calls her a "change maker." (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Gov. Pawlenty has appointed the CEO of the Mercy Hospital and Health Care Center in Moose Lake as his health commissioner. Pawlenty says Dianne Mandernach will lead the Health Department in safeguarding the public health, preparing the state for a possible bioterrorist attack and addressing the rising cost of health care. But some question her appointment because of her opposition to legalized abortion.

St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Pawlenty has long said he wants people in his cabinet who can foster change under difficult circumstances. He says Dianne Mandernach did just that at Mercy Hospital and Health Care Center in Moose Lake. He says she tranformed a small, traditional hospital into a financially healthy, full-service medical center. He says she did it at a time when many other rural hospitals are struggling.

Pawlenty says Mandernach is taking control of a state agency at an important time. He says one of Mandernach's roles will be to address the rising cost of health care in the state.

"If we don't get our hands around the changing dynamics -- particularly the escalating costs of health care in Minnesota -- it is going to be a major crisis beyond the level it already is currently. Dianne is going to help lead the efforts to try to bring us the next generation of health care reform," Pawlenty says.

Mandernach is taking over what is considered one of the best health departments in the country. It's nationally renowned for its disease investigation.

Mandernach wouldn't offer many specifics on how she'll lead the agency. But on the question of controlling health costs, she says some regulations should be loosened.

"It's a highly-regulated industry. We want to take some time ... of analyzing what maybe was in place in the past -- and put in for good reason -- maybe needs to be looked at now with a different vision and a different focus," Mandernach says.

Mandernach says other priorities of hers will include access to mental health care and health care in rural areas. Mandernach says she's opposed to legalized abortion, but supports comprehensive sexual education in schools, saying her views on abortion are consistent with Pawlenty's. She also says any abortion-related issues will be considered by the entire administration.

The abortion issue is a concern to some family planning groups this year. Several lawmakers have proposed legislation that would restrict family planning money to any group that refers or conducts abortions. Tina Smith with Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota says she's concerned Mandernach may support the legislation.

"All of our work is preventing unintended pregnancy and preventing abortion. And so we look forward to working with her on those two things," says Smith. "The best way of preventing unintended pregnancies is through family planning and medically accurate sex education."

Pawlenty said Mandernach's stance on abortion was considered, but not a major factor in her appointment.

Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, says she isn't concerned about Mandernach's stance on abortion since the commissioner supports sexual education. She says Mandernach, who lives in Lourey's district, is a good choice.

"She has turned Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake into an outstanding hospital," says Lourey. "Rural physicians and rural providers -- many of them train there and learn the rural experience. And she goes out into the local schools to make sure that young people are inspired to enter into the health profession."

Gov. Pawlenty says over the next month, he'll move some of the Health Department's responsibilities to the Human Services Department. He says he isn't considering merging the two departments at this time. Pawlenty has four more appointments to make. They are commissioners for the Planning Department, the Department of Economic Security, the Housing Finance Agency and the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Agency.

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