Trump taps psychiatrist—and mental health services agency critic—for new role as assistant HHS secretary

President Donald Trump has nominated Elinore McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., as assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Elinore McCance-Katz

The former director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) under the Obama administration has been nominated to serve as assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump.

The White House announced the nomination of Elinore McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., for the top mental health post, a position created via passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. The Senate must confirm the appointment.

McCance-Katz, who currently is the chief medical officer for the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, was the chief medical officer for SAMHSA for two years until she stepped down from the post in June 2015. The Wall Street Journal noted that she slammed that agency after she left the position, writing in a commentary for the Psychiatric Times that it didn’t focus enough on programs that provide direct services to the mentally ill.

“Nowhere in SAMHSA’s stra­tegic initiatives is psychiatric treatment of mental illness a priority. The occasional vague reference to treatment is no substitute for the urgent need for programs that address these issues,” McCance-Katz wrote in the piece.

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Her nomination to the post reflects the White House administration’s position that the federal government should focus its resources on people who suffer from the most severe mental illnesses, according to WSJ.

McCance-Katz earned her Ph.D. from Yale University with a specialty in infectious disease epidemiology and is a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. She is board certified in general psychiatry and in addiction psychiatry.

Industry experts praised her nomination. DJ Jaffe, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org, told WSJ that she is the “perfect choice to drain the swamp at SAMHSA” and ensure that the most seriously mental ill receive services, rather than being sent to jail and shelters. And American Psychiatric Association (APA) President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D., told Psychiatric News Alert that McCance-Katz is an accomplished physician, who will “bring a wealth of knowledge in the prevention, treatment and recovery of substance use disorders, which currently challenges the United States. APA strongly supports her appointment.”