SHREVEPORT - Former Congressman Ralph Abraham will lead the state's largest agency as Republican Louisiana Gov.-elect Jeff Landry's secretary of the Department of Health.
Landry also announced Madison Sheahan as his secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and David Matlock as his secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services during a press conference on the University of Louisiana at Monroe campus Wednesday.
Sheahan was most recently the executive director of the Republican Party of South Dakota, while Matlock of Shreveport is a retired Caddo Parish Juvenile Court judge.
In 2019 Matlock was named the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) Judge of the Year.
He also takes over an agency in crisis following the death of several children under the department's watch. Former Secretary Marketa Garner Walters also resigned last year.
"I've been able to watch (the problems) through a judicial position," Matlock said. "Keeping children safe is our prime objective.
"There's nothing you can do better for a child than to help a parent heal," he said. "Strengthening families is at the core of our mission."
Abraham, a doctor who lives in Alto and continues to practice in northeastern Louisiana, was the 5th District congressman from 2015-2021, limiting himself to three terms as part of a campaign promise. He also ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2019.
"It's our largest and most consequential state agency," Landry said of the health department, which accounts for almost half of the state budget. "The bottom line is it's responsible for serving some of the most vulnerable people in the state. No one is more qualified than Ralph Abraham."
Landry didn't rule out the possibility of work requirements or copayments for patients in Louisiana's Medicaid program. Most of those insured by the Medicaid expansion ushered in eight years ago by outgoing Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards are working.
"We are working to take people from dependence to independence," Landry said.
Abraham and Landry noted that while access to insurance has increased through Medicaid, Louisiana's healthcare outcomes remain the worst or among the worst in the country.
"We're still last, last, last; we're at the bottom of the barrel and we need to move up," Abraham said. "The way to address it is one success at a time."
Sheahan, who also served as a state director for Donald Trump's 2020 presidential campaign, takes over a Department of Wildlife and Fisheries that suffered a scandal this year when former Secretary Jack Montoucet resigned after he became a public target of an FBI bribery investigation involving the agency.
"The department now has a morale and image problem," Sheahan told USA Today Network. "It's not the fault of many of those working there, but the fault of the leadership of the past."
“Louisiana has always been the Sportsman’s Paradise," she said. "It’s time for us to build a Department of Wildlife and Fisheries that upholds the same level of excellence. I am dedicated to developing a team that will bring the bold and innovative leadership that this state deserves. And I’m thankful that Gov.-elect Landry trusts me to lead this department in a new direction — to create a department that truly serves the people of Louisiana.”