The Maryland Senate voted to confirm Dennis Schrader as the state’s health secretary Friday after extensive debate over his performance overseeing the COVID-19 response in recent months.
As acting secretary since December, Schrader oversaw Maryland’s vaccine rollout — a rocky process that at first lagged behind other states’ but improved as more doses became available throughout the spring.
The Senate voted 45-2 to confirm Schrader, whom Gov. Larry Hogan nominated to the position of health secretary in January.
Hogan praised the Senate’s vote in a statement Friday afternoon.
“Secretary Schrader has served the citizens of Maryland well and faithfully during the biggest public health challenge we have ever faced, and I am very proud of the work he and his entire department are doing to save lives every day,” Hogan said.
Doubts about Schrader’s performance in the role led the Senate to postpone his confirmation for months to evaluate the vaccination campaign.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said earlier in the year that Schrader faced a difficult road to confirmation and launched a vaccine oversight work group to review the state’s process.
On Friday, Ferguson said he is pleased with the improvement he has seen in Maryland’s vaccine distribution.
“I fundamentally believe that it was this body, in our advise and consent process, that helped us move the needle to get us there,” Ferguson said. “But at the end of the day, the acting secretary was managing that process.”
Still, several senators expressed distrust of Schrader.
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) said he was largely voting for Schrader because he was concerned about replacing the state health secretary during an ongoing pandemic.
“I’m going to vote green with my fingers crossed, and I hate to do that because public lives are at risk here,” Pinsky said, “but I just don’t know if we reject him, what else is left in putting a newbie there.”
The two no votes came from Sens. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Howard counties).
Washington said the state’s vaccine strategy put seniors and other vulnerable communities at risk.
“There is not the type of public health approach, community engagement and experience with diversity that is needed in a leader of a health department in Maryland,” Washington said.
Seniors for weeks complained that they were struggling to navigate online, decentralized vaccine sign-ups. A racial gap in who received vaccines also opened during Maryland’s efforts, though Hogan’s administration has initiated a vaccine equity task force in an effort to address the issue.
Schrader previously failed to win Senate approval to serve as health secretary when Hogan first nominated him to the post in 2017. He has since served as chief operating officer in the health department.
He previously worked in executive roles at the University of Maryland Medical System and as Maryland’s first director of homeland security under Governor Robert Ehrlich.
In 2007, Schrader was confirmed as deputy administrator for national preparedness with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a role he held until 2009.
Sen. Mary Beth Carrozza (R-Somerset, Wicomico & Worcester counties) spoke on the Senate floor in support of Schrader’s nomination.
“The health and safety and wellbeing of the people of Maryland are his top priority,” she said.
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @maddioneill