During a press conference at the State Capitol, Governor Mike Parson announced that he has selected Paula Nickelson to serve as the Acting Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), effective March 1, 2022.
“Today, we are excited to announce Paula Nickelson as the new DHSS Acting Director,” Governor Parson said. “Paula was a key player in Missouri’s COVID-19 response efforts and has been a valued member at DHSS for more than 22 years. We are confident in her abilities and proud to welcome her to our Cabinet as we move forward from the COVID pandemic and prepare for what comes next in public health.”
Nickelson, a Missouri native, has served within DHSS for more than 22 years and has a distinguished career in public health and health care management. For most of her time with the Department, she has been a leader in several program areas, including maternal-child health, chronic disease prevention, and emergency preparedness and response.
Nickelson was also involved in the state’s H1N1 response and planning efforts following the 9/11 attacks. Most recently, she was instrumental in a number of COVID-19 response efforts.
Over the past two years, Nickelson has put her vast experience to work as a reliable, calming, and realistic leader to implement game-changing solutions during COVID-19. She helped establish the state’s first PPE warehouse, led an interagency team that implemented the “box it in” COVID mitigation strategy for long-term care facilities, oversaw the state’s antigen testing program, and led the implementation of the state’s decontamination system for N95 masks for health care workers when resources were still scarce.
Nickelson also developed strategies to establish state-funded monoclonal antibody infusion sites and was part of the team responsible for providing health care staffing support during two separate occasions.
“It is a great privilege to be asked to lead the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services,” said DHSS Acting Director Paula Nickelson. “I am committed to enhancing our collaborative work with our local public health partners, our health care and behavioral health partners and all community partners. We will be focusing on the state’s leading causes of morbidity and mortality; prioritizing health equity; and ensuring updated data systems, performance management, and operational excellence tools are in place so we can serve Missourians in the best ways possible.”
Nickelson earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Central Missouri and a Master of Education in counseling psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.