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Illinois State University alum named Missouri's health director

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Wednesday named Don Kauerauf, a longtime leader in Illinois health and government agencies, as the next director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, effective Sept. 1.

Kauerauf holds a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational safety and health from Illinois State University in Normal, according to a news release from the governor's office, and he served as assistant director of the Illinois Department of Public Health from 2016 until his retirement in 2018.

More recently, Kauerauf was selected to chair the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, where he served as deputy to the Illinois governor’s homeland security adviser and policy adviser to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency director. 

Kauerauf has more than 30 years of experience in state government and has served in various leadership positions in public health and emergency management, the news release stated. During his time with the IDPH, he developed a statewide structure to improve communication between the department and local public health agencies and directed the development and implementation of the nation's first statewide pandemic influenza exercise. 

“It is an honor to be appointed by the Governor as the new Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services,” Kauerauf said. “I’m looking forward to working with public health agencies, health care providers, and communities to build upon the great work that has been initiated in Missouri to address the current COVID-19 situation. At the same time, I’ll work to make available critical preventative programs and services to increase the health and safety of all Missourians.”

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Parson added, “We are excited to welcome Don to Missouri and look forward to the great work he is sure to accomplish in service to all Missourians. Don is no stranger to state government and has more than 30 years of experience in public health and emergency management with the state of Illinois. It is obvious that he has a firm grasp on public health issues and the COVID-19 crisis, and we are confident in his ability to lead DHSS.”

Former Missouri health Director Dr. Randall Williams left the job in April without publicly citing a reason. Parson named his deputy chief of staff, Robert Knodell, to temporarily lead the agency while he searched for a permanent replacement.

Also on Wednesday, Parson followed Illinois in rolling out a vaccine incentive program that includes $10,000 prizes for 900 lottery winners.

Winners will be drawn every two weeks beginning Aug. 13 and ending Oct. 8. Previously vaccinated and newly vaccinated adults and children are eligible. Teenagers ages 12 to 17 will win $10,000 scholarships.

Missouri lags about 10 percentage points behind the national average for people who have initiated shots.

The goal of the incentive program is to ramp up Missouri's current 40% vaccination rate, Parson said during a news conference outside his Capitol office.

"I'm depending on you and your families to make the right choices," Parson said.

Missouri is pairing the chance for a big win with an opportunity for local health departments to give out $25 to each new vaccine recipient.

COVID-19 vaccination rates have started to fall in the U.S. even as the number of cases rise, mostly in areas where vaccine uptake has been low. Officials are trying to incentivize the vaccine, but they say more drastic measures may be needed.

Combined, the two incentive programs will cost at least $20 million. Knodell said the money would come from state funds and federal aid.

Lawmakers and statewide elected officials, including Parson, and their families are not eligible for the vaccine lottery.

Parson has said he's hesitant to offer prizes or other rewards for doing something that he considers a personal responsibility. But he's also said he'll consider all options to increase the vaccination rate; the delta variant is driving a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated Missourians.

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