Gov.-elect Sarah Sanders announced Tuesday (Dec. 27) several individuals who will fill key leadership roles at the Department of Human Services (DHS) in her administration, including her intention to nominate Kristi Putnam as secretary.
Sanders also announced her intention to appoint Mischa Martin as deputy director for Youth and Families, Janet Mann as deputy director of Health and State Medicaid Director, and Mark White as chief of staff. Putnam will replace White, who stepped into the role as head of DHS after the resignation of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s secretary for the department, Cindy Gillespie, earlier this year.
Putnam has more than 20 years of policy and hands-on experience in human services, early childhood services, education, workforce development, and health policy, including implementation of Kentucky’s Medicaid transformation and several other innovative statewide policy and process initiatives.
According to information released by Sanders, she has provided policy and strategy guidance to several legislative leaders, including House leadership in the Kentucky House of Representatives, federal agencies, such as The Administration for Children & Families’ Office of Family Assistance, and many state Health & Human Services agencies.
Putnam served in the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), beginning in March 2016 in the child welfare and family assistance office. After serving with CHFS for two years and leading Medicaid Section 1115 waiver innovation efforts, she was appointed in May 2018 to serve as Deputy Secretary of CHFS, where she served until December 2019. She assisted in leading daily operations for CHFS, a cabinet with more than 8,000 employees and an operating budget of over $14 billion.
She also served as the Child Welfare Services Manager, Chief of Community-Based Care, and Statewide Foster Care Licensing Specialist in Florida’s privatized community-based system of foster care and adoption. Her prior experience in Florida included policy and legislative development and implementation in the Department of Education, Department for Children and Families, the Florida Partnership for School Readiness, and Executive Office of the Governor.
Most recently, Putnam served as the chief people officer for AppHarvest, a publicly traded agtech startup in Kentucky.
“Kristi and I share a vision for bold reforms that support our neighbors in need, care for our most vulnerable, protect children in foster care, and ensure Arkansans are not trapped in a lifetime of poverty,” Sanders said. “With thousands of employees working in every county of Arkansas, I wanted strong leaders with big hearts and records of innovative initiatives to tackle the challenging issues this department faces, which is why I am thrilled to have Mischa, Janet, and Mark joining our new Secretary.
“I am excited about the opportunity to join Governor-elect Sanders’ administration and take on the important work of human services,” Putnam said. “We will protect our fellow citizens while prioritizing reforms and identifying efficiencies and taxpayer savings, which is what I have done throughout my career. I strongly believe that access and opportunity empower people to live their best lives. The Governor-elect has great plans to unleash opportunity for all Arkansans, and I cannot wait to get to work alongside her and this team at DHS.”
The Department of Human Services oversees Medicaid and its expansion programs, the Youth and Families division, Aging, Adult and Behavioral Services, and Developmental Disabilities Services.
Martin is director of the Division of Children and Family Services. In this role, she is responsible for the safety of children and youth in Arkansas, child abuse and neglect prevention, foster care, and adoption programs.
Mann has more than 20 years of experience in healthcare and healthcare finance. She has worked in the public and private sector for multiple states and clients. She has served as the division director for DHS’s Division of Medical Services overseeing the Medicaid operations before and during the beginning of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency until April 2021. She also served as DHS’s chief financial officer for a year in 2017. In addition, Mann was a deputy administrator for Medicaid in Mississippi during Gov. Haley Barbour’s administration, 2006-2010.
White became the secretary of the Arkansas Department of Human Services in October 2022. Since he first joined DHS in 2013, White has worked in a variety of capacities including work in the Secretary’s Office, the Office of Chief Counsel, and the Division of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services. Prior to becoming secretary, White served as Chief of Staff and Chief Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Officer, where he represented DHS before the Arkansas Legislature and serves as a primary point of contact for legislators, elected officials, lobbyists, and other state agencies.
Gov.-elect Sanders has appointed five other cabinet positions, while Putnam is the first female announcement. Sanders has appointed Mike Hagar as Secretary of Public Safety; Mike Mills as Secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism; Shane Khoury as Secretary of Energy & Environment; Wes Ward as Secretary of Agriculture; and Hugh McDonald as Secretary of Commerce.