Governor’s COVID adviser steps down

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Marci Nielsen, the governor’s chief adviser for coordinating the fight against COVID-19, announced late Thursday she was stepping down from her position.

“With the pandemic’s gradual shift to ‘steady state,’ the timing is right for me to return to my pre-pandemic plans to work in D.C.,” Nielsen announced in a newsletter that went out to colleagues late Thursday afternoon.

“I thank all of you for your selfless commitment to work together on behalf of all Kansans health and safety, and thank Gov. Kelly for the opportunity to serve,” Nielsen said in announcing her departure.

Nielsen is the third high ranking official to leave the Kelly administration in recent months. Her last day is Dec. 3.

Legislative liaison Tim Graham took a lobbying job with the Kansas National Education Association last week.

Appointments director Scott Allegrucci left in September to take a job in the private sector and spend more time with his son.

It was not known whether the governor would choose a new adviser.

Nielsen was paid $150 an hour, although her work was capped at 23 hours a week, the governor’s office said last year when asked about her salary.

“Her pay rate is consistent with previous cabinet-level individuals consulting with the state,” a governor’s office spokeswoman said at the time.

There had been a lot of speculation in political circles about Nielsen’s future after she revealed new living arrangements in Washington, D.C., on Facebook back in August.

In a message to colleagues, Nielsen recited a series of accomplishments, including the development of a unified testing strategy and launching a COVID-19 equity effort to measure and improve rates of testing and vaccination in communities of color.

She touted the start of a workgroup to keep Kansas schools open safely and providing a weekly “deep dive” newsletter for stakeholders.

“I am proud to have played a role in protecting our state during these immensely challenging times,” she said.

Nielsen joined the governor’s staff in September of last year, about six months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the governor’s senior adviser on COVID, Nielsen oversaw policy coordination of the state’s response to the pandemic, working with the state health department to support public policy, communications and external stakeholder outreach.

Nielsen received her doctorate from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and her master’s in public health from George Washington University.

From 2006 to 2009, she directed the Kansas Health Policy Authority, which administered the state’s Medicaid, CHIP and State Employees Health Benefit Plan.

She then served as president and CEO of the patient-centered Primary Care Collaborative in Washington for five years, where she was responsible for strengthening evidence-based advocacy for primary care.

She subsequently served in roles at the University of Kansas Medical Center, including vice chancellor for public affairs, and associate professor in the Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health.