Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped Courtney Phillips, the head of Nebraska’s health department, to lead Texas’ largest health agency, effective Oct. 19.
Phillips, the chief executive officer of the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services since 2015, replaces Charles Smith, who retired May 31 after a year as executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Smith, who at the time of his appointment was considered a close ally of Abbott’s, announced his retirement amid a flurry of high-profile departures set off by major contracting errors at the agency that were revealed earlier this year.
“Dr. Phillips’ vast experience in health and human services makes her the ideal person to fill this role,” Abbott said in a news release. “Tackling the challenges at HHSC will be no small task, but I’m confident that Dr. Phillips’ extensive background will help her lead the department to improve and maintain accountability.”
In April, agency officials canceled five managed-care contracts worth $580 million after they discovered a staff member had evaluated interested vendors with a tool that contained errors. The contractors were to provide health care for low-income children in rural areas and in Hidalgo County in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
A few weeks later, the State Auditor’s Office released a report highlighting a series of problems with how the agency awarded a $17.5 million contract in 2016 to develop and maintain a database to track birth and death statistics across the state. Auditing officials said the agency inaccurately scored the five interested vendors and used the wrong information to award the bid to Genesis Systems Inc.
Smith apologized for the mistakes in a subsequent hearing before lawmakers.
Phillips has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, a master’s in public administration and doctorate in public policy. Prior to Nebraska, she worked at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for 12 years, eventually becoming deputy secretary. At the time, the Louisiana agency had an annual budget of more than $9 billion and more than 11,000 employees.
Phillips oversees 4,700 employees and a $3.6 billion budget in Nebraska.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has 60,000 employees and an $80 billion two-year budget.