Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Governor’s Office confirms David Scrase to depart job as Human Services Department secretary

Human Services Secretary David Scrase, left, talks with House Speaker Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, on the opening day of this year’s 60-day legislative session. gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office said Friday that Scrase would be stepping down from his job, effective next month. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE — David Scrase, the head of New Mexico’s Human Services Department who emerged as the face of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is leaving the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and will formally retire next month.

The Governor’s Office confirmed the abrupt departure Friday, saying Scrase is already on leave from the department due to a family emergency. His last official day on the job will be Feb. 24.

The departure of Scrase, one of the governor’s longest-serving and most high-profile Cabinet secretaries, continues a spate of turnover as she moves into her second term. It also comes as a critical time for the administration, with the 60-day legislative now underway.

In a statement, the Democratic governor thanked Scrase for his service and described him as a “valued member of state leadership” since she took office in 2019.

“What’s more, his work at HSD has benefited hundreds of thousands of low-income New Mexico families, delivering critical supports and services,” Lujan Grisham also said, referring to Scrase’s work overseeing the joint federal-state Medicaid program that provides health coverage to more than 800,000 state residents.

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In addition to his tenure as Human Services Secretary, Scrase also simultaneously led the Department of Health for nearly a year-and-a-half before Lujan Grisham appointed former Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen to take over the post in December.

As the head of two prominent agencies, Scrase became a recognizable figure during the pandemic due to his regular appearance with the governor at news briefings.

He was described by Lujan Grisham in 2020 as “our very own New Mexico Dr. Fauci” — a reference to former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.

A former health care system executive, a published author and a public speaker, Scrase was the primary physician for the governor’s late parents.

He also continued seeing patients, on a pro bono basis, at least twice a month since the governor picked him to run the Human Services Department in 2018, though he put that practice on hold during the pandemic.

The only licensed physician in Lujan Grisham’s Cabinet, Scrase said in an interview he felt his career had prepared him for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do feel like everything I’ve done in my career has kind of prepared me for this moment,” Scrase told the Journal.

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