PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee has tapped Ana Novais to serve as acting secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, a major state agency that oversees several departments which currently lack permanent leaders.

Novais most recently served as assistant secretary to outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones, who submitted her resignation in March, and she also worked for several years in various positions including deputy director at the R.I. Department of Health. Her salary currently totals $175,411, according to the state’s transparency portal.

“This letter will confirm that effective April 18, 2022 you will assume the role of Acting Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and will remain in the position until we have a permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services,” McKee wrote in a memo to Novais on April 15.

The governor’s office had previously said Jones’ last day as secretary would be May 1.

“We’re grateful that Ana Novais is stepping up to serve as interim EOHHS Secretary,” McKee spokesperson Alana O’Hare said Tuesday. “She has played a critical leadership role in our Administration’s transition support teams for RIDOH and DHS and brings with her deep institutional knowledge of the EOHHS organization.”

The secretariat plays a significant role in state government, overseeing several other departments and subagencies, including Health; Human Services; the Office of Healthy Aging; Veterans Services; Children, Youth and Families; and Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. The office also administers the state Medicaid program.

In total, the state estimates the agencies under the umbrella of Health and Human Services provides direct services to about 306,000 Rhode Islanders each year. And the agency controls a budget totaling upward of $3 billion, about a quarter of the state’s entire annual spending.

Novais, who joined state government in the late 1990s, will take over at a crucial time for the McKee administration, as the General Assembly is in the process of vetting the governor’s proposed state budget.

At the same time, many of the agencies under her management currently lack permanent leaders. There are acting or interim directors in the Health Department, Human Services and DCYF. BHDDH director Richard Charest is also widely expected to step down in the coming months, as he’d committed to serve only a year when he joined the McKee administration last spring.

O’Hare said the DHS position is currently posted online and state officials are in the process of interviewing DCYF candidates, and they “expect to name a DCYF director soon.”

“The Administration is working diligently to find strong, qualified candidates to lead agencies that currently have interim leadership in place and we continue to make progress,” she added.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.