Harrisburg, PA – Today, Val Arkoosh, MD, MPH officially became Secretary of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in accordance with the Pennsylvania Constitution. Arkoosh brings to the role a wealth of experiences as a physician, public health professional, and former county commissioner. As Secretary, she will oversee life-sustaining services and supports for more than 3.6 million Pennsylvanians directly and many more through DHS' protective services and oversight of child welfare, behavioral health, long-term care, child care, and more.
"Having the privilege to serve our Commonwealth as Secretary of Human Services is an opportunity to draw upon my experiences at each stage of my career, and I am honored to lead an agency whose work I am so passionate about," said Secretary Arkoosh. "I am incredibly grateful to Governor Shapiro for his trust, and I promise to use this work and opportunity to fight for and advance the health, wellbeing, economic self-sufficiency, and safety of all Pennsylvanians."
Secretary Arkoosh joined DHS shortly after the federal government set forth significant changes to Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that saw an end to pandemic-era flexibilities that had been in place since March 2020. Secretary Arkoosh mobilized quickly to begin to prepare Pennsylvanians affected by these changes so they could prepare and know what action to take or where to go for help. Under her leadership, DHS is working closely with partners in state government and beyond to help Pennsylvanians through the Medicaid renewal process so they stay covered.
Secretary Arkoosh is also committed to ensuring efficient DHS operations, both as a service provider and effective stewards of taxpayer dollars so Pennsylvanians are getting the care and services they need. Until recently, long wait times for provider validation from the state could be a barrier for providers who wanted to offer services through the Medicaid program in Pennsylvania. As of January 2023, there was a backlog of more than 35,000 provider applications that were more than 30 days old. Secretary Arkoosh saw this backlog and acted quickly to address it, directing staff to prioritize removing roadblocks to processing applications quickly. Within the first 100 days of the administration, the number of waiting applicants was reduced by 75 percent to under 8,500 applications, and that backlog has now been cleared so providers can continue to see patients covered by our Medicaid program.
Before entering public service, Secretary Arkoosh practiced medicine as an obstetric anesthesiologist. Her experience working in Philadelphia hospitals showed her the inherent link between a person's living environment and the impacts of generational poverty on health and wellbeing. This inspired her to pursue further education in public health to address not just the in-the-moment challenges a person faces when they present at a doctor's office or emergency room, but the community-level barriers that affect health outcomes.
As former chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, she applied her experience in healthcare to strengthen services for citizens, including vulnerable populations like children, seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and people affected by the opioid crisis. At the state level, DHS has an oversight role in much of the county-level human services work, and Secretary Arkoosh is committed to being a supportive and collaborative partner to counties and other stakeholders to help reach our shared goals.
For more information about DHS and services available to Pennsylvanians, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.