WECT EXCLUSIVE: New DHHS Secretary, a Wilmington native, talks about humble beginnings, COVID, and end of pandemic

Secretary of NC DHHS talks about his position and the pandemic
Published: Feb. 3, 2022 at 7:34 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As a child, Kody Kinsley benefitted from the services he now oversees from the state level. The new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, a Wilmington native, says he came from very humble beginnings.

“Wilmington was a great place to grow up and we had so many economic opportunities available to us,” Kinsley said. “My dad was into construction. His first job was actually building sets here at the movie studio. My mom cleaned houses. And while they worked incredibly hard and we did well, it wasn’t a childhood without challenges.”

Kinsley was in Wilmington Thursday traveling with Gov. Roy Cooper, who was in town to visit King’s Pharmacy & Compounding Lab, a local pharmacy distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

Kinsley’s exclusive interview with WECT’s Frances Weller was his first in his hometown since his appointment the first of the year. Kinsley was no stranger to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. He served as Chief Deputy Secretary under Dr. Mandy Cohen who announced her resignation in November. Kinsley was named the new Secretary January 1, 2022.

Kinsley now oversees a department with nearly 18,000 employees and an annual budget of $26 billion. His office is responsible for overseeing the state’s public health, mental health, and Medicaid programs, to name a few. Kinsley credits what he describes as an amazing team, including hundreds of physicians, data scientists and attorneys, for the state’s ability to navigate through this pandemic under his leadership.

While he admits North Carolina is a long way away from being over the COVID-19 crisis, he believes there is an end in sight to the pandemic.

“We’ll get through this,” he says. “We’ll get to the other side but we need to do it together and the most important thing you can do is get vaccinated, get boosted as soon as you’re eligible, and wear a tight fitting mask, right now.”

Kinsley returned to North Carolina after serving as the Assistant Secretary for Management for the United States Department of the Treasury under both the Obama and Trump administrations.

He says it was his upbringing in Wilmington that prepared him for his current role.

“My life was made better because we had a local health department that had a dental program that helped me get access to free dentistry service,” Kinsley said. “I was able to have access to the free lunch program here in New Hanover County Schools. It was that patchwork of programs that gave me the chance to become a first generation college student. I ended up going to graduate school to study public policy and then working in D.C. So coming home for me is about paying it forward. And when I think about this pandemic and all the other work we have to do at the department and my mom, my dad, my brother, my grandmother — who live here still — I’m so honored to be able to be here in this job at this time.”

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