- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The director of the state health department is stepping down to take a job as an attorney for the Department of Mental Health, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Friday.

During her time at the head of the Department of Health and Senior Services, Gail Vasterling led efforts that ultimately saw the designation of a Missouri laboratory as an Ebola testing lab, expanded the state’s newborn screening services and a review of a polluted creek in the St. Louis area, Nixon said.

She also weathered public scrutiny during recent legislative hearings, where she explained the department’s decision to grant a Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic a license to perform medical abortions.

Nixon said his deputy chief of staff Peter Lyskowski will serve as acting health department director, beginning Oct. 19, while the governor searches for a permanent replacement. Lyskowski previously worked as deputy director of the health department, deputy director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and acting director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation.

Lyskowski started his career in public service as an assistant attorney general during Nixon’s time as state attorney general, where Vasterling also began public service and eventually was promoted to chief counsel for the office’s litigation division.

Nixon appointed Vasterling in January 2014, though she’d been the acting director since December 2012 and deputy director before that.

“From protecting seniors from abuse and neglect to keeping children safe from disease, Gail has done outstanding work to make Missouri healthier, safer and stronger,” Nixon said in a statement.

While Nixon described Vasterling’s new role at the Mental Health Department as part of the “senior leadership team as general counsel,” her departure from her position as director is a step down in leadership responsibilities.

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