Sun. Jul 14th, 2024


Governor Parson Appoints 3 People To Major Offices Involving Healthcare & More

Two acting directors involved in Health Care and Social Work in the Show Me State are now taking that role full time.

Governor Mike Parson is elevating Department of Social Services Acting Director Robert Knodell and Department of Health and Senior Services Acting Director Paula Nickelson to full time status.

Parson says he’s been “extremely impressed” with their leadership and they will be a “great asset” to continue having in his cabinet.

Knodell has been acting director since 2021 after serving as Governor Parson’s Deputy Chief Of staff prior to the appointment.

Nickelson had served the DHSS for more than 20 years prior to her appointment by the Governor.

The Governor also appointed Kayla Hahn to the Missouri Public Service Commission following her tenure as Parson’s policy director.


***Full Reports:


(Jefferson City, MO) – Today, Governor Mike Parson announced that he is elevating Department of Social Services (DSS) Acting Director Robert Knodell and Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Acting Director Paula Nickelson to full status Directors of their respective Departments. Their appointments will become effective tomorrow, June 2, 2023.

“We have greatly enjoyed having Acting Directors Knodell’s and Nickelson’s perspectives in our Cabinet and have been extremely impressed with their leadership at DSS and DHSS,” Governor Parson said. “They have accomplished a lot for the state of Missouri. From improving customer service to helping bring an end to a pandemic, they work hard for the people of Missouri, and we’re excited to announce them as full status Directors. We have much left to accomplish for Missourians, but with both of them in our Cabinet and on our team, we know we can get it done.”

DSS Director Robert Knodell

Knodell has served as DSS Acting Director since October 17, 2021. Since assuming leadership at DSS, Knodell has focused on improving workforce compensation, enhancing employee recruitment and retention strategies, and reducing staff turnover rates. Working with Governor Parson and the General Assembly, he has helped secure pay increases for all DSS team members and shift differential pay increases for evening and overnight congregate care staff. 

Additionally, Knodell has successfully worked to accelerate new technology projects to replace and upgrade antiquated systems to more efficiently manage workloads and to better serve the more than 2 million Missourians who utilize DSS programs. He has also focused on improving customer service and stakeholder relationships with partners and advocates.

Previously, Knodell was a member of Governor Parson’s senior staff, serving as Deputy Chief of Staff, a position he held from June 2018 to October 2021. Knodell also served briefly, from April 2021 to September 2021, as the Acting Director of DHSS to provide stability within the Department until a permanent replacement could be found.

During his time in the Governor’s Office, Knodell played a key role in implementing Governor Parson’s policy priorities across all Executive Branch agencies. Additionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he served as the Governor’s Office designee who oversaw much of the state’s response efforts and vaccine rollout. 

DHSS Director Paula Nickelson

Governor Parson named Nickelson as DHSS Acting Director on March 1, 2022. Since then, Nickelson has been planning for and executing workforce enhancements for both the department and partners in local public health and health care throughout the state. She has focused on the adoption of a new model for public health in Missouri, which describes foundational programs and capabilities that must be available to every Missouri resident and in every community to assure the best opportunity for health. Nickelson has been working to modernize systems to provide more efficient services to Missourians.

Additionally, Nickelson is prioritizing some of the top issues affecting Missourians such as maternal mortality and opioid misuse by ensuring that policy and programmatic recommendations are being pursued and implemented.

Nickelson, a Missouri native, has served within DHSS for more than 23 years and has a distinguished career in public health and health care management. She has been a leader in several program areas, including maternal-child health, chronic disease prevention, and emergency preparedness and response.

Nickelson was also involved in the state’s H1N1 response and planning efforts following the 9/11 attacks. She was instrumental in a number of COVID-19 response efforts. She helped establish the state’s first Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) warehouse, led an interagency team that implemented the “box it in” COVID mitigation strategy for long-term care facilities, oversaw the state’s antigen testing program, and led the implementation of the state’s decontamination system for N95 masks for health care workers when resources were still scarce.

Nickelson also developed strategies to establish state-funded monoclonal antibody infusion sites and was part of the team responsible for providing health care staffing support to health care facilities and serving federal medical assistance teams for state health care augmentation.


(Jefferson City, MO) – Today, Governor Mike Parson announced the appointment of Kayla Hahn to the Missouri Public Service Commission. Dr. Hahn most recently served on Governor Parson’s senior staff team as Policy Director.

“Kayla has been an integral member of our team since the very beginning,” Governor Parson said. “With her extraordinary knowledge, profound experience, and steadfast leadership, we’ve been able to achieve truly historic wins for the people of Missouri. Wins that will benefit this state for generations to come. There is no public servant more devoted than Kayla, and Missourians have been better served by having her on our team here in the Governor’s Office. We’ll certainly miss having her in the Office but take comfort in knowing her service to Missourians continues.”

Dr. Hahn has served as Senior Advisor and Policy Director for Governor Parson since August 2018. As Policy Director, Dr. Hahn helped lead the Governor’s legislative agenda, prepare the Governor’s annual budget recommendations to the General Assembly, implement the Governor’s policy priorities across all 17 Executive Branch agencies, and spearhead the state’s response to COVID-19.

Additionally, as a member of Governor Parson’s senior staff, Dr. Hahn represented the state of Missouri on the Southern States Energy Board and Midwestern Higher Education Commission.

Prior to her tenure in the Governor’s Office, she served as Assistant Director and Research Analyst for the Missouri Senate Division of Research from 2013-2018. She holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from Missouri State University and a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in political science from the University of Missouri–Columbia.  

Governor Parson accepted Dr. Hahn’s resignation on May 31, 2023. Dr. Hahn’s appointment to the Public Service Commission becomes effective today, June 1, 2023.

Reporter John Rogger