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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 -

Note: The Legislative Reference Library may have additional reports on or by this group available through our catalog.
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. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1925-2017.
Record last updated: 12/10/2019

Additional print information on this group may be available in the Library's collection of agency notebooks. Please contact a librarian for assistance. The Minnesota Agencies database is a work in progress.

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