Gov. Frank Murkowski on Tuesday named Deputy Health Commissioner Karleen Jackson as Commissioner Joel Gilbertson's successor when he leaves office in October.
Jackson has been with the Department of Health and Social Services since 2003, and she worked for Catholic Social Services of Anchorage for more than 10 years before that.
Her background is in social work, and she has previously held jobs in homeless shelters and as a missionary in Anaktuvak Pass. She was Catholic Social Services' executive director from 1999 to 2003.
Murkowski spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said Jackson is prepared for the health issues she will face as commissioner, particularly the rising cost of prescription drugs and federal programs such as Medicaid.
Over the last two and a half years that she has been deputy commissioner, Jackson has helped create health care cost containment measures, Hultberg said.
In October, when Jackson starts her new job, the federal government is expected to reduce from 58 percent to 50 percent the amount it pays for Alaska's Medicaid costs. That is estimated to cost the state an additional $53 million next year and $73 million the year after that.
House Health, Education and Social Services Committee Chairwoman Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said the department is in the middle of major changes and choosing a commissioner who will provide continuity is a wise move.
"The changes in the system have been unbelievable, and we're not done with that yet. Someone new coming in, it would be chaos," Wilson said.
Gilbertson is leaving to take a newly created executive position with Providence Health System of Alaska, which runs the state's largest hospital in Anchorage.
He said he is stepping down so he can start a family and because of the job opportunity. He is the third Murkowski cabinet member to resign this year.