President-elect Joe Biden announced that he will be appointing an individual who, if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, will be the first openly trans-identified person to hold a federal government position.
In an email to supporters on Tuesday, Biden announced the appointment of Dr. Rachel Levine to serve as assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Levine, who is a biological male and originally named Richard Levine, presently holds the position of secretary of health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In a statement included in the announcement, Biden said that he believed Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic.”
“[Levine will] meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond. [He] is a historic and deeply qualified choice to help lead our administration’s health efforts,” Biden continued.
Levine garnered controversy last May over his decision to allow hospitals to discharge COVID-19 positive patients who were sent back to nursing homes, thus putting large numbers of elderly people at risk of death by further spreading the virus.
This prompted some, including state Sen. Doug Mastriano, to call for Levine's resignation, equating the decision to that of medical malpractice.
“Our secretary of health, Dr. Levine, decided that it would be good to allow COVID-positive patients to be returned to elder-care facilities. And as a result of that, it broke out like fire,” Mastriano said, according to triblive.com.
“The very same people our secretary of health said were going to be vulnerable … It unleashed heck upon our dearly beloved fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I think that’s unconscionable, unacceptable, and that secretary needs to be held accountable for that awful decision.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf defended Levine, arguing that “Levine has done a phenomenal job of making sure that we do what we need to do in keeping Pennsylvanians safe.”
“I think it’s a tribute to [him] that Pennsylvania has actually done a better job than many of our surrounding states in terms of the infection rate and the death rate,” he continued, as reported by triblive.com.
While adding more rules and restrictions to state nursing homes, Levine garnered attention when local news outlet ABC27 reported that his own mother “recently vacated a personal care home” in the state.
“Many in Harrisburg wondered what kind of message it sends — when a close relative of the person tasked with overseeing those types of facilities doesn’t choose to stay in one. Levine countered that [he] is working to protect the health of all Pennsylvanians,” ABC27 reported last May.