Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature
Skip Navigation Links > >

Minnesota Agencies

Information on Minnesota State Agencies, Boards, Task Forces, and Commissions

Compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Health Department

Also known as:
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)
Active dates:1977 -

The statutory mission of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is to protect, maintain, and improve the health of all Minnesotans. MDH is the state's lead public health agency, responsible for operating programs that prevent infectious and chronic diseases and promote clean water, safe food, quality health care, and healthy living. The department also plays a significant role in making sure that Minnesota is ready to effectively respond to serious emergencies, such as natural disasters, emerging disease threats, and terrorism. The department carries out its mission in close partnership with local public health departments, tribal governments, the federal government, foreign countries, and many health-related organizations.

Preceded by:

During the mid-to-late nineteenth century, Minnesota faced public health issues such as poor sanitation and disease epidemics. To address these issues, Minnesota established a state board of health in 1872. It was the third such board in the United States.

The state board of health was abolished in 1977 (see Laws of Minnesota 1977, Chap. 305 Sec. 39) and all powers and duties of the board were transferred to the commissioner of health.

That same legislation created a health advisory council. In 1983 the Health Advisory Council was renamed the State Health Advisory Task Force (1983 Laws, Chap. 260 Sec. 30).

The Minnesota Department of Health hired Elisabeth Emerson to write a history of public health in Minnesota during the mid- to late-20th century: "Public Health is People: History of the Minnesota Department of Health from 1949 to 1999."

In November 2017, the Star Tribune ran a 5-part series of articles that brought to light the high number of elder abuse allegations being reported to the Department of Health in MN and a breakdown in the agency's handling of the cases. In part, due to controversy over the state's mishandling of allegations of criminal abuse in senior care facilities, Dr. Edward Ehlinger resigned December 19, 2017 as Minnesota's commissioner of health. 

In one of the Star Tribune's articles they noted: "In an unusual move, Dayton also gave the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) sweeping new powers over the agency responsible for investigating abuse and neglect in senior care homes. The much-larger Department of Human Services will have the authority to direct Health Department staff, make personnel decisions and implement changes to the agency's work and investigative process, according to a far-reaching agreement reached Tuesday between the two agencies."

Agency heads:

Commissioner term, 4 years or pleasure of governor.

Commissioner history: Dr. Robert Barr, 1949-1970
Dr. Warren Lawson, 1971-1978
Dr. George Peterson, 1979-1982
Sister Mary Madonna, 1983-1990
Daniel McInerney (acting), 1991
John McCally, February, 1991- March, 1991
Mary Jo O'Brien (acting), 1991
Marlene Marschall, 1991-1993
Mary Jo O'Brien, 1993-1995
Anne Barry, 1995-1999
Jan Malcolm, January 19, 1999-2003
Aggie Leitheiser (acting), 2003
Dianne Mandernach, February 3, 2003-October 2007
Dr. Sanne Magnan, November 1, 2007- 2011
Dr. Ed Ehlinger, January 2011-December 19, 2017
Dan Pollock (acting), December 20, 2017-January 30, 2018
Jan Malcolm, January 31, 2018-January 2023
Dr. Brooke Cunningham, January 2023 - 

Note: The Legislative Reference Library may have additional reports on or by this group available through our catalog.
Distrust of science frustrates retiring health commissioner: Jan Malcolm warns we're not ready for another pandemic. Minnesota Medicine, March/April 2023.
Gov. Tim Walz names new education, health and public safety commissioners. Star Tribune, 12/22/2022.
Walz, Flanagan Announce Cabinet Appointments. News Release (Governor Tim Walz), 12/21/2022.
Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, who made history as Minnesota's first female health commissioner, dies at age 99. Star Tribune, 11/1/2022.
Her prescription in crisis: Be the voice of calm: With a pragmatic persona as health department head, Jan Malcolm is being called "Minnesota's Dr. Fauci.". Star Tribune, 4/5/2020.
Progressive public health, innovative medical enterprise, and more. MNopedia, 12/27/2011.
News clippings and documents: Commissioner of Health. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1971-2018.
News clippings and documents: Health Department. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1973-2020.
Record last updated: 04/22/2024

All information on this group from the Library’s collection of agency notebooks has been digitized. These materials are incorporated into the “documents/articles” section of the record. Please contact a librarian with any questions. The Minnesota Agencies database is a work in progress.

Agencies image