Governor Hobbs nominated Dr. Theresa Cullen to serve as her Director for the Arizona Department of Health Services. We believe Dr. Cullen has precisely the right skill set, talent, motivation, and personality to lead the Department.

The newly formed Senate Director Nominations committee held a confirmation hearing for Dr. Cullen last Thursday afternoon. After more than 4 hours, the committee voted, along party lines, to recommend that the Senate not confirm Dr. Cullen.

See AzPHA’s Letter Supporting Dr. Cullen’s Confirmation

The hearing felt more like a prosecution than a hearing designed to determine qualifications of a candidate for an important job.

You can view the hearing here. It starts off with an eloquent opening statement from Dr. Cullen. The committee was respectful at first. However, when the committee began the question period, the ‘questions’ quickly transitioned to become an airing of grievances about many of the public health policy decisions made during the pandemic, often decisions made by the Pima County Board of Supervisors for which they held Dr. Cullen responsible.

Perhaps the most difficult part for me was the very end. After the committee had already voted against her, Senator Hoffman launched into a several minute monologue of insults. I’m not recommending that you watch the ‘hearing’, but if you do, just watch the last 10 minutes to get a flavor for how cruel it was. I mean, what’s the point of continuing to attack her character and integrity after he had already achieved his objective: to secure a no vote from the committee?

The decision of Thursday’s Committee isn’t final, only the full Senate can reject her nomination. However, I think it’s unlikely that two Republicans will break from the committee recommendations and confirm her.

Sadly, it looks like a super-talented director candidate has been lost in the process. Dr. Cullen has had a decades long career in health care and public health, having achieved the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service as well as being an Assistant Surgeon General. She is accomplished at running very large organizations with complex missions with budgets well over a billion dollars. Her professional reputation is one of integrity, accountability, and commitment to evidence-based policy.

Most recently, she has been serving as the Director of the Pima County Health Department, where she has become intimately familiar with ADHS’ mission – including first-hand experience identifying the agency’s strengths and weaknesses. That experience would have been super-important in informing internal interventions to improve the agency’s effectiveness.

Dr. Cullen is an ideal candidate to take the reins of an agency that has been sorely lacking in quality director-level leadership for many years.

ADHS has a very diverse and complex mission, from the responsibility to ensure the health and safety Arizonans in thousands of licensed facilities, the stewards of millions of vital records like birth and death certificates, nutrition assistance (via Women Infant and Children’s program), food safety, infectious and chronic disease epidemiology, newborn screening, running the Arizona State Hospital, and much more.

An agency with such a diverse and complex mission requires a leader with determination, curiosity and a commitment to evidence based public health policy. It also requires someone committed to recruiting, retaining, and training talented staff and building accountability within the organization at all levels.

Dr. Cullen was precisely the right person for the job.

Arizona would have been (and still would be) fortunate to have Dr. Cullen at the helm of the Arizona Department of Health Services. We still urge the full Senate to confirm her nomination, but in today’s polarized and politicized environment that is sadly unlikely.

Editorial Note: There two categories of persons who are attracted to being in jobs like the Director of ADHS. One category are persons who are interested because it provides a unique opportunity to use the resources and authority of the department to achieve better health for Arizonans. A second category of people are those who might be attracted because it just seems like a good paying job, is an opportunity to boost their pension, or is an opportunity to ‘be somebody’.

My fear is that quality, accomplished candidates who are interested in the post for the right reasons – people who want to help use the resources and authority of the agency to improve health – will no longer be interested in the position after seeing this new confirmation process. Sadly, we may now be left with candidates not interested in the job for the right reasons.