Gov. John Carney, commenting this week on the resignation of Delaware Department of Health & Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, characterized her as “just a delightful woman with incredible grace and great leadership.”

When she leaves to accept a position at Nemours’ National Office of Policy & Prevention in Washington, D.C., later this summer, Deputy Secretary Molly Magarik will replace her, having been nominated for the post by Carney and confirmed unanimously by the Delaware Senate this week.

“There were a lot of factors that came into play” concerning Walker’s resignation, Carney said on Tuesday, June 23, during his weekly press briefing.

“She had some family issues with her father — who, by the way, worked with my dad many years ago,” he said, adding that leaving her position was a difficult decision for her.

“She’s just been a godsend to us, and we’re going to miss her,” he said.

The governor said he tried to talk Walker into staying, “but it was a set of personal circumstances and a professional opportunity she couldn’t turn down.”

Carney called Magarik “a proven leader, a problem-solver and a committed public servant who has been second-in-command at DHSS for the last three and a half years.”

“Throughout her career, and especially as Deputy Secretary, Molly built important relationships and trust with members of the General Assembly, our healthcare systems, agency staff and Delawareans throughout the state. As we continue to fight COVID-19, I’m confident Molly will be able to lead this department without missing a beat, while continuing our work to make Delaware a stronger and healthier state,” Carney stated.

Magarik said she is humbled and grateful to Carney for the “trust and faith he has in me to lead this agency, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to serve in his Cabinet.”

Walker, who has been the head of the largest agency in Delaware’s state government since February 2017, will take her new role “to pursue health care policy work at the national level. She will serve in Nemours’ Washington office as senior vice president and chief population health officer,” officials said.

Walker’s accomplishments include leading the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, developing the nation’s first healthcare spending and quality benchmarks in Delaware while slowing growth of healthcare spending, establishing a reinsurance program that reduced premiums by up to 19 percent on the individual insurance market in its first year, funding a reduction in a waiting list for services among seniors and adults with physical disabilities, creating new Medicaid managed-care contracts that embed paying for value in health care instead of volume,  hiring former Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings to head the Group Violence Intervention program, establishing the Delaware Integrated Data System to support individuals and families in Wilmington impacted by violence, expanding the Community Partner Support Unit to address social service needs for individuals and families, reducing barriers for those seeking treatment for substance use and raising the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

“Since the day I took office as governor, Dr. Walker has been a central part of the most qualified and diverse cabinet in Delaware’s history,” Carney said.

“Over the last several years, she has managed our health and social services programs with grace, poise and with a steadfast focus on helping the Delawareans who are most in need. Kara’s compassionate leadership has been so incredibly important this year, as Delaware has grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic. Her leadership during this difficult time has saved lives and helped Delaware respond successfully to this disease.

“Now we all need to do our part. Stay socially distant. Wear a face covering. Kara’s voice and leadership will be sorely missed in Delaware, but I’m confident she will continue to do great things at Nemours,” Carney said.

Walker said being chosen by Carney was an “incredible honor” because he “entrusted [me] with meeting the needs of the people of Delaware.”

“It has been one of the highlights of my life to come back to my home state and lead the dedicated team of women and men here at DHSS,” she said. “During the pandemic, I witnessed our team coming together as never before and figuring out new ways of meeting the health and social-service needs of the people we are sworn to serve. I am grateful to the Governor’s Office, our fellow state agencies, the legislators, community partners and residents of Delaware for the faith they had in me and our entire department.

“While I know that we advanced many health and social-service policies during my tenure, I will always wish that I had more time, because there is more work to address health equity, healthcare costs and access to care up and down our state, but particularly for vulnerable populations,” Walker said.

Magarik has been Deputy Secretary since February 2017, managing care financing, payment and delivery system reform, budget administration and management and early childhood education.

She served as the department’s chief strategy officer and developed and maintained partnerships with Delaware cabinet agency leaders, the legislature, the federal delegation, advocates and healthcare system leadership throughout the state, according to the Governor’s Office.

Magarik formerly served as state director for Carney when he was a congressman and as political director for the late Beau Biden’s campaign for Delaware attorney general. She worked as a strategic advisor across nonprofits and government, including as executive director of the Delaware Democratic Party.

She is a candidate for a master’s degree in healthcare delivery science from Dartmouth College and earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and government from the University of Delaware. She and her husband, Josh, have two daughters and live in Middletown.

The agency has 11 divisions and more than 4,000 employees and is responsible for meeting the health and social-service needs of Delaware residents.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.