Cecile Young to lead Texas Health and Human Services Commission

Cecile Young will run the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in the midst of a pandemic that has hit Texas particularly hard. (Texas Health and Human Services Commission)

Cecile Young has been named the new head of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission as the agency fights an ever-growing number of coronavirus cases in the state.

Young, who has more than three decades of experience working in state government, including several top roles at HHSC, will take the helm of an agency of nearly 37,000 employees as it navigates a worsening pandemic that has seen Texas become a national hot spot, a years-old crisis in its care for foster children and ongoing criticism of its contracting procedures.

“Cecile will provide immediate leadership to help solve the health care challenges facing our state during this pandemic,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who announced Young’s new role Monday.

Young has worked since the late 1980s at a number of state agencies under several Texas governors, at the Texas Attorney General’s Office and in the Texas House of Representatives. She worked at the Health and Human Services Commission in the early 1990s after it was created by the Legislature, helping launch the fledgling agency, according to her LinkedIn page. And she was acting commissioner of the agency during the summer of 2018.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic presented unprecedented challenges for the agency, HHSC has had to navigate years of shifting leadership. Courtney Phillips led the commission for just over a year before leaving to take the top job at Louisiana’s health agency. Phillips’ last day was March 13, less than a week before Texas announced its first coronavirus death.

Since her departure, the sprawling agency’s acting commissioner has been Phil Wilson — a longtime fixture in Texas government who was simultaneously earning a $636,694 salary and working 30 hours per week as the general manager of the Lower Colorado River Authority, a quasi-state agency funded without state tax dollars.

And in 2018, contracting scandals forced a number of top agency officials, including former commissioner Charles Smith, to step down. Earlier this year, several health plans alleged faulty procurement protocols at the agency.