Could COVID-19 politics derail Arizona’s new health director? She’s not worrying about it

By Stephanie Innes || The Arizona Republic

Newly appointed state health director Dr. Theresa Cullen hadn’t seen the tweet yet, but she was neither bothered nor surprised that an Arizona legislator had issued a public call to block her Senate confirmation.

“Am I sweating it? No. I have no idea how it will go,” said Cullen, who has headed the Pima County Department of Public Health in southern Arizona since June 2020. “Could it be acrimonious? Yeah. I hope what people will see is that I just want to make lives better.”

Late last month, then-Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, appointed Cullen to direct the Arizona Department of Health Services. Her salary will be $237,000 per year, and she’s scheduled to begin her new job Feb. 20, state officials said.

The state health department has about 1,600 employees, a current fiscal year budget of nearly $1 billion and a higher public profile, acquired during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic enters its fourth year in March.

Cullen is technically a nominee to the director’s job. She must go through a Senate confirmation process to make her appointment official, although nominees may serve in their posts for up to a year before they need to be confirmed.

Dr. Theresa Cullen was appointed by Gov. Katie Hobbs to be the new director of the state Department of Health Services.

The state Senate is made up of 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats, meaning the approval of each of Hobbs’ nominees could hang in the balance of divisive politics.

For Cullen, the first stop in the confirmation process could be the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It includes four Republicans and three Democrats and is chaired by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge.

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