Local News

State DHHS Secretary Leaving to Take N.Y. Job

Posted May 4, 2007

— The state's top health official announced Friday she will step down from her public post and become president of a New York-based health research foundation.

Carmen Hooker Odom, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, was hired by Gov. Mike Easley in early 2001 to oversee the department. It is the second largest state government agency in monetary size behind the Department of Public Instruction.

Hooker Odom, 62, said she will step down August 24 and join the Milbank Memorial Fund in October. Her departure marks just the second state Cabinet member to leave since Easley became governor in 2001.

"Accepting this position gives me an unprecedented opportunity to have an impact on the future of critical health care issues across the nation," Hooker Odom said in a written statement.

She said the department "has accomplished so much during the past 6 1/2 years, but I think we have laid a good platform for continued future success in many areas."

The $4.2 billion state agency oversees Medicaid, the government health insurance program for poor children and older adults, as well as the disabled. The department also includes mental health and substance abuse programs and public health initiatives.

Hooker Odom led the department as child health insurance was expanded for low-income families and Medicaid patients gained access to managed care treatment statewide. The state's response to child abuse and neglect reports also improved.

But the department has struggled to implement mental health care reforms during her tenure, and Hooker Odom has been criticized for alleged Medicaid irregularities related to supplemental funding for hospitals. The department recently cut reimbursement rates for certain mental health providers.

Hooker Odom arrived as the state began to retool the mental health system from one that primarily served patients in large state institutions to community programs. The transition slowed amid state budget shortfalls as state mental hospital admissions rose.

Easley, who had not named a replacement, said he was pleased with Hooker Odom's leadership.

"She has handled one of the most challenging jobs in the state with great skill and compassion for all those the department touches," Easley said.

Hooker Odom, a former Massachusetts state lawmaker, moved to North Carolina to join husband Michael Hooker when he became chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hooker died in June 1999, and his wife remarried in 2002 to then-state Sen. Fountain Odom of Mecklenburg County.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Myword May 5, 2007

    She has been a leader in selling the mentally ill down the river. Don't let the state line hit you on the way out.

  • davidgnews May 5, 2007

    Agreed, barbado -

    Easley's arrogance is only rivalled by Black, Basnight, and Rand.

  • barbado May 5, 2007

    I saw Madame Sec'y 5 years ago when she said, "Not single patient will be sent out of our state hospitals until the services in the community are up and running." A few months later, one of her lieutenants said at an open forum that state hospital beds would be closed down so that funds could be sent for services in the community. Gee, which statement were we to believe?
    I think Hooker-Odom was supposed to put a smiley-face on an ongoing, deepening disaster of the "mental health reform" for Governor Easley, who has just about NO concern for the mentally ill. However, I do believe this government is quite dedicated to providing subsidies, loopholes and tax breaks for needy corporations and banks (they contribute quite a bit more to political campaigns, needless to say).

  • camsmom May 4, 2007

    Thank you Carmen. From those of us who know you personally and professionally and not just through the media, you have worked tirelessly and we appreciate it. We know that you did the best you could with what was handed to you.

  • just saying May 4, 2007

    A Northeast Liberal is going away... No loss but we need to send alot more back...

  • pyanfar May 4, 2007

    re:"What do you mean almost sparrow? CHO is to health care what Godzilla is to Japan." No Godzilla sometimes is a good guy.

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy May 4, 2007


  • GroupOfPricklyPears May 4, 2007

    Congratulations, Madame Secretary. Thank you for your many years of fine service to our state. Good luck and best wishes to you and Senator Odom.

  • GWALLY May 4, 2007

    me too....mo money, mo money......my, my, my we need mo money!!!

  • prdcfmly May 4, 2007

    Thank goodness!! As a professional in the mental health field, I am very glad a change is coming!!