ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Kris Ehresmann has become one of Minnesota’s most visible public leaders managing the response to the crisis and in the process became a household name across the state. But after 30 years in public health, the Minnesota Health Department’s Director of Infectious Disease retired Wednesday, February 2.
Ehresmann has been one of the public health leaders that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm has leaned upon to not only help manage the coronavirus pandemic, but also as a trusted communicator to the public. During the peak of the crisis, Ehresman appeared in alongside the governor and commissioners during press conferences, and later spoke to the state via daily teleconferences broadcast and streamed via news outlets.
"What I would say is that this has been the most rewarding career," said Ehresmann in an interview with FOX 9.
Ehresmann started at the Minnesota Department of Health in the 1980s.
"My first job as a student worker at the department was working for Mike Osterholm," recalled Ehresmann.
Osterholm now leads the Center for Infectious Disease Policy and Research at the University of Minnesota and is regarded as one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists. Ehresmann recalls sitting cross-legged on her floor waiting for Osterholm to call her back after her job interview.
"He really instilled in us the pursuit of excellence and that that carried on to the next generation of epidemiologists, and I can tell you that the generation that comes after me is pursuing excellence in the same way. So that tradition continues," said Ehresmann.
In her time at MDH, Ehresmann helped coordinate the state’s response to the H1N1 flu in 2009 and later to the measles outbreak in 2017. But the coronavirus pandemic is what has posed one of the greatest challenges and offers many lessons for the future.
"In this pandemic, we've learned that you can't do public health without the public," reflected Erhesmann. "And so I think that's another lesson. And another thing that folks will be looking at is how can we effectively engage the public when we have to deal with a challenging situation like we've just been through?
Ehresmann says she and her husband have been planning their retirements together for some time. She says they both lost their mothers five years ago which made them re-evaluate their lives and careers.
"And it just struck us the brevity of life, and we decided that we wanted to make a plan to retire so that we would be healthy and have time to really enjoy and spend together," said Ehresmann.
Emily Emerson, the current assistant director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division will become the interim director while the Department of Health launches a national search for a replacement.