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California

California state health director resigns after criticizing anti-vaccine activists on Facebook

Jennifer Kent
Jennifer Kent, director of the California Department of Health Care Services.
(Eleakis & Elder Photography)

A top healthcare official in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration announced her departure Tuesday, with the timing of her resignation sparking questions about whether it was related to a Facebook post she shared criticizing vaccine bill protesters and calling them “flat-earthers.”

Jennifer Kent, director of the state Department of Health Care Services, announced in a letter to staff Tuesday that she was resigning from the post, which she has held since 2015. Newsom’s office declined to say why Kent stepped down, but her resignation follows a post she made Monday on her private Facebook page about vaccine bill opponents, a screenshot of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times and others in the Capitol community.

“The Capitol is filled with a bunch of flat-earthers today,” Kent’s post said before referencing the large bear statute outside the governor’s office that is often jokingly referred to as “Bacteria Bear” because so many statehouse visitors touch it.

“My poor sweet Bacteria Bear is dripping with unvaccinated booger-eater germs,” Kent wrote before using two hashtags: "#believeinscience” and "#vaccinateyourgoddamnkids.”

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The post contains a video of parents sitting with their children outside the governor’s office, where protesters had been camped out all week opposing SB 276 and SB 714. Newsom signed both bills on Monday.

Kent did not return messages seeking comment. Newsom’s office declined to give any details about Kent’s departure other than a statement hailing her as a “strong leader” who has “made our state stronger and Californians healthier.”

In her resignation letter, Kent said her last day will be Sept. 30. The department Kent leads oversees the Medi-Cal program, the state’s healthcare program that serves 13 million low-income and vulnerable residents.

Kent’s departure comes as the Legislature is debating a new tax on managed care organizations during the final week of the legislative session and during a historic overhaul of Medi-Cal’s prescription drug purchasing program.


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