SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Secretary of Health Kathyleen Kunkel announced Friday she will be retiring but will remain in her position through the current COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s office said Friday they will begin a nationwide search for a full-time replacement.
“Every single day of this public health crisis has been a physically and mentally exhausting ordeal – not just for the Department of Health, not just for the thousands of health care professionals putting their lives and livelihoods on the line to protect New Mexicans, but for all of us as the people of this state,” Kunkel said in a press release Friday. “I am incredibly proud of the work done by the Department of Health and indeed the entire state of New Mexico in addressing this virus, in mitigating its spread and in doing everything we can to keep New Mexicans safe and healthy. That work will continue until we’ve seen ourselves through to the other side of this crisis. The governor, the medical advisory team, the entire state administration and everyday New Mexicans have shown themselves to be more than up to the task of corralling and ultimately defeating this virus. We will get the job done.”
The governor’s office said Kunkel began her career in New Mexico’s health care community as a pediatric social worker at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. In addition to working in the Attorney General’s Office, she worked across various divisions of the Department of Health for seven years before she was appointed secretary by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in January 2019. Kunkel holds a master’s degree in social work from Michigan State University and a law degree from the University of New Mexico.
“At the same time, I know in my heart that the moment has come for me to begin the next phase of my life. It is a personal decision I make, not a professional one. The work of battling this pandemic has been challenging to say the least, but I am and will remain eternally grateful to everyone who has stepped up and sacrificed to assist the Department of Health and the state; they are, truly, too many to name. And I look forward to continuing to work as hard as I can every day right alongside them until such time as I can step aside with peace of mind and begin my next chapter with the appropriate leadership to take my place,” Kunkel said in the same press release.
“I have known Kathy Kunkel for decades in both a professional and personal capacity, and my longstanding respect for her, her work ethic, her intellect, her problem-solving ability and her compassion has only grown during these months of crisis,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham in the same press release Friday. “I know first-hand the challenges of leading the Department of Health. The secretary has been under more day-to-day stress than perhaps any other New Mexican official in responding to the pandemic. Frankly, it’s unimaginable. And yet Kathy has put in countless, thankless hours and been an instrumental part of our state’s overall successful response. Rather, I shouldn’t say they were thankless hours – I am personally immensely grateful to her, and I know New Mexicans are, too. I understand and accept her decision at this point in time and I am grateful that she will remain part of the team until we can get to a point where we have a seamless transition to ensure New Mexico’s response to this public health emergency remains as consistent and robust as it has been since March. We will continue to fight this virus with everything we’ve got.”