Arkoosh to lead Shapiro’s sprawling human services agency

A close-up of Dr. Val Arkoosh speaking into a microphone.

File photo: U.S. Senate candidate Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh speaks during a meeting of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party State Committee in Harrisburg, Pa., on Jan. 29, 2022. Arkoosh, an anesthesiologist who led Pennsylvania's third-most populous county through the pandemic before mounting a failed run for U.S. Senate, will be nominated to lead the sprawling Department of Human Services according to an announcement Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, by incoming Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Dr. Val Arkoosh, an anesthesiologist who led Pennsylvania’s third-most populous county through the pandemic before mounting a failed run for U.S. Senate, will be nominated to lead the sprawling Department of Human Services under the incoming Democratic governor, Josh Shapiro.

Wednesday’s announcement by Shapiro also included his picks to lead the departments of Health, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Aging and Insurance.

Arkoosh, 62, is a former chair of anesthesiology at Drexel University College of Medicine who now chairs the three-member board of commissioners in Montgomery County, in suburban Philadelphia.

Shapiro, the state’s two-term elected attorney general, will be inaugurated Tuesday to become the 48th governor of Pennsylvania.

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On Montgomery County’s board, Arkoosh overlapped with Shapiro for two years before he was elected to attorney general.

During the pandemic, Arkoosh held daily, livestreamed briefings about the county’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, as it became the first county where Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the shutdown of schools and businesses.

Arkoosh ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2014 and was prominent before that in campaigning publicly for passage of then-President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act. She again ran in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, but dropped her candidacy in February before filing paperwork to get on the ballot.

The Department of Human Services administers more than $50 billion in state and federal money, or about half of all the money that flows through Pennsylvania’s state government every year.

Much of the money is tied to the Medicaid program, the federal-state partnership that provides medical care for the poor, long-term care for the elderly and direct care for the disabled. In particular, the growing elderly population and the growing cost to care for them has rapidly driven up the program’s costs.

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The department also runs the county assistance offices around the state, administers the federal food stamps program and distributes billions of dollars to counties and nonprofit agencies for child welfare services, child care subsidies and mental health counseling and assessment services.

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