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Nixon names top executive at Grace Hill to head state Department of Social Services

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 24, 2012 - Alan O. Freeman, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis-based Grace Hill Health Centers, has been tapped by Gov. Jay Nixon to be the new director of the Missouri Department of Social Services.

Freeman has been the chief executive at Grace Hill Health Centers for six years. Grace Hill operates five health care centers and a community health program in the St. Louis area.

Freeman will come on board as Nixon has launched a major initiative to persuade Republican legislative leaders to change their minds and support an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, as called for under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Missouri’s Medicaid program is administered through the state’s Department of Social Services.  Presumably, Freeman is a strong advocate of the proposed expansion, which also is backed by many of the state's healthcare-affiliated groups.

According to the governor’s office, Freeman will take over from acting Department of Social Services Director Brian Kinkade, who has run the agency since June 2011. Kinkade is to remain with the department as deputy director.

“Very few leaders have Alan Freeman’s unique combination of health care administration experience and an intimate understanding of the needs of Missouri’s most vulnerable families and children,” Nixon said, citing Freeman’s 20 years of experience in the health care industry.

“As we move forward with meeting those needs, I am confident that Alan is the right person to take on the challenges ahead, and that he will continue the fine work the department has done under acting Director Brian Kinkade, and under Director Ron Levy before him.”

From the governor’s release:

“The Department of Social Services is responsible for coordinating programs and providing public assistance to children and their parents; providing access to health care for low-income families; child protection and permanency services; and specialized assistance and rehabilitation services to trouble youth. While many DSS programs provide needed financial assistance and rehabilitation services to troubled youth, other units work toward reducing financial dependence of the citizens on government.”

Freeman was on vacation and unavailable for comment, his staff said.

He has been president and CEO of Grace Hill since November 2006. Freeman earlier was  executive director for Missouri Highlands Health Care, a non-profit community health center that provides primary and preventive health services in Butler, Carter, Iron, Reynolds, Ripley, Shannon and Wayne counties. Freeman also served six years as the CEO for Cass Medical Center in Harrisonville, as well as senior leadership positions at two other Missouri hospitals.

The governor’s office also notes that Freeman “is the current president of the board of directors of the St. Louis Integrated Health Network, has served as board president for the Missouri Primary Care Association, and also sat on the governing body of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission.”

Freeman holds a master of business administration with an emphasis in health services management from Webster University, and will complete the coursework component of the doctor of management program at Webster in March 2013. He also is a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Nixon, meanwhile, has spent the last few weeks highlighting policy issues -- such as Freeman's appointment, the Medicaid expansion and the governor's opposition to GOP proposals to arm educators with firearms as a result of the mass killings at a grade school in Connecticut.

The governor's inauguration plans, though, are on track. All statewide officials will be sworn in Jan. 14, traditionally in a ceremony in front of the state Capitol.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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