Editorial: Dr. Mandy Cohen's legacy - Leadership to emulate
Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021 -- North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Mandy Cohen's legacy and lessons in how to confront a monumentally difficult task and assert leadership -- particularly in a crisis with the direst of consequences and the bitterest of disagreement over what should be done and how - should never fade. She's done her job with the kind of effectiveness and finesse that must, and will, live as an example to emulate for other state leaders -- current and future.Posted — Updated
Her legacy and lessons in how to confront a monumentally difficult task and assert leadership -- particularly in a crisis with the direst of consequences and the bitterest of disagreement over what should be done and how – should never fade.
She's done her job with the kind of effectiveness and finesse that must, and will, live as an example to emulate for other state leaders -- current and future.
She was rarely the source of good news.
But Cohen didn’t pander. She's not a false optimist. She's been a departure from too many characters at the time offering easy solutions and baseless and phony prognostication. She's honest.
Cohen has been a source of verifiably reliable information and common-sense direction and advice. She honestly shared empathy with millions of other North Carolinians like her whose children’s lives were tossed topsy-turvy, whose parents found themselves in sudden risk and whose own personal and professional lives were turned upside down.
While certainly not what Cohen would want or be satisfied with, given the impediments and lack of cooperation her agency received from the legislative leadership, that record is no small accomplishment.
She may not have won on as many challenges as she wanted – or should have. But even those who disagreed, listened and were informed by what Cohen said and did. As a result, sometimes a few of those doubters came around to her view and recommendations.
No surprise, her effectiveness was noticed. She received the Leadership in Public Health Practice Award in 2020 from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and was elected to the National Academy of Medicine this year.
While leading North Carolina’s response to the COVID pandemic has been her focus for much of the last two years, her imprint on the agency she is leaving is broader. Her agency is a national leader in using technology to connect those who need health care and social service help with providers in their communities. The agency launched Medicaid managed care and worked to reduce differences in access to health care services and opportunities of sectors of the state’s population that have historically been overlooked.
There’s no doubt that much remains of what Dr. Mandy Cohen wanted to accomplish leading the state’s second largest department. But she has set in motion the work to finish much of what remains undone. Her agency is better today for her efforts. Even more, there are untold North Carolinians alive and who got access to treatment for their health needs because of her work.
They listened – even if they didn’t immediately agree -- because she looked to bring people together, knowing well that pulling together accomplishes more than igniting suspicion and bickering. When she speaks she’s not looking to score any rhetorical points. She is looking to unite and build.
Mandy Cohen is a leader for our times. We’ve needed more. We’ve been fortunate to at least have her through these most challenging of times.